In the Press...
Two River Times News Article on Vets Project Backed by Smith'Plans for Military Veterans Village Proceeeds'
Story and photos by Joseph Sapia -
In about four years, Monmouth County could have its first permanent residences for military veterans in need of housing.
The Massachusetts-based “Soldier On,” a nonprofit group that fights homelessness in the veterans community, laid out its concept for a series of co-op units on 12-1/2 acres on Essex Road at a press conference Tuesday.
“Fifty to 100 (units) is what we set as our goal,” said Jim Scalise, Soldier On’s engineer.
Based on 75 units, or the middle of the goal, the project is estimated to cost $16 million, Scalise said. The project is being built on open land donated by the borough.
The Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Village at Tinton Falls – named after the wounded Vietnam War Army veteran, advocate for disabled vets and former acting secretary of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs – also would provide various services, such as education and employment opportunities.
“We want to integrate people into a whole life,” Downing said. “We want them to be a part of the fabric of the community.”
There are an estimated 30 homeless veterans in Monmouth County, with dozens in the broader area, according to those at the press conference. On any given day in America, there are 57,000 homeless veterans, according to Soldier On.
In New Jersey, Soldier On serves eight counties: Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Hudson, Essex and Bergen.
Theoretically, Veterans Village would be open to any qualifying veteran, even beyond these eight counties, but Soldier On said normally vets would come from within 25 miles.
The conceptual plan now has the co-op units in five two-story buildings. The buildings could vary in number of units, Scalise said. The 450-square-feet units would include a living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
Soldier On has a half-dozen similar facilities either already operating or in development in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In Monmouth County, Soldier On is only in the beginning stages of reviewing the land and looking at financing. Scalise said the Veterans Village could be running in about four years.
Veterans Village would be the result of work initiated by the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), formed to transition the base, which closed in 2010, into a civilian area.
This is a what housing for military veterans in need could look like when built in Tinton Falls. The actual determination of what the project looks like will be made based on suitability of the property and other factors.
“Soldier On is coming to Monmouth County,” said Lillian G. Burry, a member of the county Board of Freeholders and head of FMERA’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It’s been a long journey, about five years. We tried different sites, nothing came about.”
Burry credited her husband, Donald, a retired Coast Guard captain, with urging her to continue finding housing for homeless veterans.
“Don Burry said, ‘Don’t give up,’” said Burry, as she opened the press conference at Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club in Howell. “No, I didn’t give up.”
The project took the recent turn in the right direction when Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald M. Turning Sr., who was born at Fort Monmouth, came up with the Essex Road property, Burry said.
“It was perfect,” Downing said.
Congressman Chris Smith, a veterans advocate, said housing was “the common plea for those left behind” as veterans.
Smith thanked Burry for “her extraordinary leadership” in getting the housing for vets this far. The congressman calls Downing a “true innovative leader” who has provided “fine, safe, affordable” housing to veterans.
“There’s a passion to serve veterans in this community,” Downing said.
Various officials attended the press conference, including Turning, FMERA Chair James V. Gorman, state Senator Jennifer Beck, Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone and county Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. Gramiccioni, who was born at Fort Monmouth, is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.
Normally, this type of project is funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development money distributed by the state, Scalise said. A veteran would buy a share of the property at $2,500 and pay $1,025 a month in rent.
As a cooperative, Veterans Village would pay property taxes – and qualify as “affordable housing” for the borough. Soldier On would run Veterans Village.
The site, which sits between Asbury Avenue and the sharp bend of Essex Road at the Garden State Parkway, is now zoned “Continuing Care Retirement Community,” said Borough Council President Gary A. Baldwin. It was unclear at this time whether Veterans Village complied with the zoning or would need a variance.
“Our job is to work with them,” said Baldwin, a retired Air Force captain. “We don’t anticipate any problem.”
“At Soldier On, our goal is to give our very best to our veterans,” Downing said. “Our job is to serve veterans, not anything more than that.”