For residents of Post Road Gardens, a Bayonne public housing complex located off Avenue A near Newark Bay, Richard Constable III, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), could not have picked a better day to inspect than on June 22 when rising temperatures scalded the air.
Constable, who arrived neatly dressed in a suit jacket and tie, soon shed the jacket as he made his way to the upper floors of the 250-unit complex, and learned quickly how much of a need there was for air conditioning.
Constable had not come to Bayonne for such a lesson, but was rather on a tour of facilities in Bayonne, Jersey City and North Hudson where federal funds were being used as part major weatherization projects, and he had come to see how the money was being spent.
“We here because we’ve had problems with the weatherization program and how its worked throughout the state,” said state Senator Sandra Cunningham, who along with Bayonne Housing Authority officials, members of the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation (BEOF) and representatives from the contractors joined Constable on the tour. “I spoke with the commissioner about this project in Bayonne because it seemed to be working well, and I wanted him to come up and see that by giving weatherization dollars to the people in the community and community organizations, that we can get the job done well. We don’t want the state to have to send any of those federal dollars back. If we can prove that it’s done well here, then we might get funding for extra things such as air conditioning.”
Economic benefits of housing improvements
The project, which started at the complex in October 2011, is making use of more than $1 million in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which in fulfilling its federal mandate put back to work five members of the Laborers Local No. 325 back to work through the BEOF local weatherization and energy efficiency program. The BEOF covered the cost of construction materials and utility improvements. The workers installed weather stripping, window caulking, and showerheads in apartments at Post Road Gardens. The work team also replaced inefficient refrigerators in Post Road apartments.
Post Road Gardens is owned by South Shore Village Leased Housing, a private, non-profit corporation. The property is managed by the Bayonne Housing Authority.
According to BEOF Executive Director Ana Quintela, the project had some logistical problems early on, but through the help of state monitor, it was not only able to get back on track, but will actually finish ahead of schedule.
“We estimated that we would be done in September,” she said. “We believe the project will be complete by mid-August. At one point, she said, the project, which focused on residential units first, advanced at 15 or more units per day.
Quintela said that when applying for the project, the BEOF did an assessment of its buildings and determined that Post Road Gardens had the population mix of low-income residents and senior citizens that the federal program called for, and said that part of the focus also met with criteria of the federal reinvestment act in putting people back to work.
Of the three weatherization technicians hired to supervising work, two of them were trained through state programs, she said. As of early June, work had been completed on all of the 250 units and the project was moving on to address common areas.
“Since we started we were able to do a lot of work in house,” Quintela said, referring to work done by Housing Authority staff rather than subcontractors. “Whatever work we could do ourselves, we did.”
“We here because we’ve had problems with the weatherization program and how its worked throughout the state.” -- Sandra Cunningham
The work on all the residential units has already passed inspections, she added. The work on common areas took a little longer because of some of the equipment that needed to be installed had to be specially ordered. A new water pumping system will be based on actual consumption and is estimated to save the building $15,000 a year.
As the entourage moved through the halls of the building, it encountered residents coming and going. One woman was handing out religious flyers. Another woman entering the elevator for the trip down to the lobby to check her mail said she liked living in the building.
“I’ve been here about six years, and lived in Bayonne for about 37 years,” she said. “I have no complaints.”
By the time, officials reached the ninth floor where they were to look at one of the vacant apartments just completed, the heat had risen enough to have Constable remove his jacket. Sweat showed on the brows of all the officials, and though Constable and Cunningham admired the remarkable view of Newark Bay, both raised concerns about the heat.
“This heat would be bad for younger people, let alone senior citizens,” Constable said, upon learning that the building did not have central air and that the apartments did not come with individual units.
Quintela said people could install their own or if they did not have the means, they sometimes came to the BEOF and applied to the Hudson County Office on Aging.
“Most of the time, we can get the funds from the county,” she said.
In a brief aside, Cunningham and Constable spoke about possibly finding more money that would provide the building residents with clearly needed relief from the heat.
“I think we can write up something and submit it to the state,” she said.