Home Sicklerville News Residents question council on need for Market to Affordable program

Residents question council on need for Market to Affordable program

Residents and officials have debated for months

Since at least September 2020, residents have directed questions to the Gloucester Township Housing Authority and council about progress being made on the Market to Affordable (MTA) housing program and the need for its existence. The issue dominated  the public comment portion of council’s Aug. 23 meeting.

The MTA program started in October 2019 and is run by the housing authority. Its goal was to buy vacant houses at market value, repair them, then sell each at an affordable price with a deed restriction to keep that affordability for approximately 30 to 35 years, according to Township Solicitor David Carlamere.

The program was explained on separate occasions by David and his wife, Commissioner Cynthia Carlamere; by David at the Aug. 23 council session and by Cynthia at the June 8 housing authority meeting. As Cynthia stated during the latter, “(MTA Project Director) Patrick Murray is employed by the housing authority in connection with the township’s MTA housing program. The housing authority is reimbursed by an affordable-housing fund from the township.”

“What is intended to help Gloucester Township is the fair share trust fund,” resident Ray Polidoro said at the council meeting. “That is intended to help people in need of affordable housing, and all that we see is money going out.”

Polidoro has made the case in the past that too much money was being spent on Murray’s position and not enough progress has been made to justify it.

At the start of public comments at the council meeting, resident Pete Heinbaugh came forward with new information regarding Murray that he acquired through an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request. He revealed that Murray has been paid $880 a month and is not under a contract, as previously questioned by residents and council.

“I asked for the contract–the engagement contract for Patrick Murray–and embarrassingly, I was sent meeting minutes from the October 2019 meeting, where the housing authority approved the funds to pay an unnamed program director,” Heinbaugh noted. “That was it. That was the contract.

“There’s no term,” he added. “There’s no amount even given. There’s not a single term of contract. The duration, the amount, performance requirements. So it seems to be that contractually, we’re free to opt out today.”

Since the program started around October 2019, there have been no structures that have gone from market value to affordable value. During a July housing authority meeting, Murray explained that the job was part-time of about 10 hours a week, and that while there haven’t been any houses turned in value, he was starting the program from scratch. In his time as MTA project director, Murray has produced manuals, pamphlets and a 45-page document for potential sellers. He also said he was looking into prospective houses and apartments to convert.

Following Heinbaugh and Polidoro, resident Denise Coyne and council candidate Ray Henry both asked variations of  the question, “Can the council terminate the program if they are unhappy with it?”

Councilman Dan Hutchison answered both times, first saying he would think about it.

“Now tonight, we know how much the housing authority is paying [Murray], and we know based on Pete’s (Heinbaugh) representation that he doesn’t have a contract,” Hutchison explained. “But again, I asked the question, ‘Can this body usurp the authority of another body?’ And that’s really what we’re doing.”

Henry asked housing authority liaison and Councilwoman Carolyn Grace whether she had attended the July meeting and whether or not Murray was working. She confirmed she had, and that he was employed part time. Henry also asked whether or not someone from the housing authority could attend the next council meeting, an idea Hutchison rejected.

“There are public meetings, you can go to them,” he said. “I can’t order an employee of a different entity to appear at a council meeting.”

It should be noted that in the past, council has had members of T and M Associates and Triad Associates attend workshops prior to the meetings to answer residents’ questions  and give presentations on the redevelopment plans.

In other news:

  • Council passed two proclamations, one that supports the Gloucester Township Police Department’s participation in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over  Campaign that began Aug. 20 and runs through Sept. 6. The department has been conducting saturation patrols using both marked and unmarked patrol vehicles to look for potentially intoxicated motorists, according to a press  release. The second proclamation declared July 5 to be 26th Amendment Day, honoring the 50th anniversary of the change in voting age from 21 to 18.
  • Council accepted the 2020 audit of Gloucester Township
  • Council also introduced an ordinance on first reading amending the Blackwood West Redevelopment plan to include “office use and accessory vehicles of an electrician, painter, plumber and similar establishments at 44 W. Church St.,  subject to a redevelopment agreement or Memorandum of Agreement as determined by the redevelopment entity,” under permitted uses of the plan.

The next council session will be Sept. 13. The workshop will begin at 6:30 p.m. and the regular session at 7:30.

The next housing authority meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14, at 6 p.m., either virtually or at Senior Campus I, located at 405 Woodbury-Turnersville Road, Blackwood, NJ.

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