Housing advocates, community developers and public officials convene to ensure racial equity, housing affordability and neighborhood revitalization in pandemic recovery at virtual conference
TRENTON – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Deputy Secretary Michele Perez and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver joined hundreds of housing advocates and policy makers to highlight the investments and policies that the federal and state government can adopt to redress the systemic and institutional barriers that have contributed to the racial wealth and housing gaps in New Jersey and around the nation at Under One Roof: Empowering People and Places 2021.
Organized by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, the statewide association of community development organizations and allies working to ensure housing affordability in New Jersey, the virtual conference included topical workshops, awards for municipalities engaged in housing development, as well as recognition of advocacy and organizing efforts, the presentation of the Community Development Champions Award to the Legislative Black Caucus and a lifetime achievement presentation to Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-9).
“As we continue to respond to this pandemic, ensuring everyone has a safe place to live is critical to building and sustaining a healthy community,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “As a result of all the initiatives and funding the state is rolling out, we have a real opportunity to shape housing policy, create affordable homes, and improve the New Jersey housing landscape in a lasting way.”
Network President and Chief Executive Officer Staci Berger echoed Oliver’s comments. “Throughout this crisis, we were reminded that housing instability is often a missed paycheck away for too many New Jerseyans. The Murphy Administration, working closely with the housing and community development sector, avoided a potentially catastrophic housing crisis be enacting model programs to keep renters in their homes and help landlords pay their bills,” Berger said.
“Keeping people safely in their homes during and after the pandemic is the humane and responsible approach,” Berger said. “Now, we need long-term policy solutions and resources that dismantle barriers that have disproportionately kept vulnerable communities – and particularly Black and brown residents – from achieving housing stability.”
Perez, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Field Policy and Management at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), leads HUD’s Office of Field Policy and Management. In this role, she oversees the department’s regional and field offices as they deliver on HUD’s mission to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
The Network, working with its statewide membership, national housing advocates, and legislative allies, fought for the last 18 months to establish a pandemic response that prevented what could have been a tsunami of evictions. Berger said the result was a comprehensive legislative response that established key renter protections, emergency rental assistance for renters and landlords, and fundamental changes in how the courts handle back rent by converting arrearages to civil debt so renters can get on track with repayment and keep their credit intact.
Berger also pointed to a string of legislative victories this year, including the preservation of the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and establishing the Fair Chance in Housing Act, which removes criminal background before a conditional lease offer, as key first steps in creating a stable housing environment. Other goals, she added, include removing credit scores as criteria for access to a home, which has vexed thousands of New Jerseyans who are trying to rebuild their credit while finding stable living conditions.
The Network’s annual “Under One Roof” conference honored the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus (NJLBC), led by Asw. Shavonda Sumter (D-35) with its Community Development Champion Award for its integral role in protecting the NJ Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). The NJLBC and its members participated in virtual rallies and the Network’s annual Legislative Day, where members spoke publicly about the importance of the AHTF and strategically used budget resolutions to show a unified voice on this important issue. As a result, the final FY2022 budget included full funding for the AHTF and protected this critical investment to create the affordable homes New Jersey needs.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D, NJ-9) received the 2021 Jerry Green Legacy Award Winner for supporting efforts to secure housing security for the most vulnerable residents, for his leadership throughout the pandemic, and for his efforts to address the housing affordability crisis through his role as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight.
The Network also honored the National Low Income Housing Coalition (the Network’s national partner), with the Exceptional Community Partner Award, the United Black Agenda and the Fair Share Housing Center with the Advocacy and Organizing Award, and Ashley Balcerzak, reporter for the Record, with the Excellence in Media Award for her housing coverage throughout the pandemic and in exposing inequities in our housing system and for adding to the understanding of housing challenges in our communities.
“Outstanding Municipal Partner” Awards went to the following:
• City of Newark for its partnership with Clinton Hill Community Action to address abandoned, blighted properties in the city’s South Ward;
• Borough of Palmyra for its work with Habitat for Humanity of Burlington and Mercer Counties to deliver homeownership opportunities;
• Hamilton Township (Mercer County) for its work with HomeFront on developing the Lynwood Avenue Affordable Housing;
• City of Plainfield for working with Morris Habitat for Humanity for its continued work in transforming vacant properties into new homes;
• Edison Township for its part in developing 42 new units of permanent, supportive, affordable housing for seniors, partnering with Monarch Housing Associates, DOMUS, Catholic Charities Diocese of Newark, and Metuchen Community Services, SRS Strategic Associates, LLC and Community Grants Planning & Housing;
• Manchester Township for its work with Homes for All in developing 82 new townhomes;
• City of Newark/Newark Homelessness Project for envisioning and building Newark’s Hope Village that now houses 27 homeless individuals;
• City of Bridgeton, for collaborating with Gateway Community Action Partnership in mobilizing the city’s Code Blue efforts.
The virtual event was sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, M&T Bank and Valley National Bank among others. Featured sessions included topics on healthy homes, tenant rights, women in development, art, neighborhood revitalization, racial equity, getting out the vote, federal public policy, neighborhood empowerment and safety, housing counseling, and pandemic relief resources. The full program for the event is available here.
The Conference’s plenary discussion, “Centering Racial Equity for Housing Justice: Addressing the Racial Housing Wealth Gap & Securing Racial Equity in Our Work,” was moderated by Network Board Chair, John Restrepo, Real Estate Director, Garden State CDC. Panelists included Asw. Britnee Timberlake (D-34), National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Senior Vice President for Racial Equity, Diversion and Inclusion Renee Willis, Ironbound Community Corporation Director of Advocacy and Organizing Maria Lopez-Nunez, and Fair Share Housing Center Director of Racial Justice James Williams.
About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 250 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities. For more information on the Network, visit www.hcdnnj.org.