When the pandemic started in 2020, people lost jobs and struggling families living from paycheck to paycheck found themselves in economic distress.
Choices were made between paying the rent and utilities – or buying food. Homeowners wondered how they were going to pay the mortgage. Many states – including New Jersey – temporarily banned evictions.
While COVID has eased, some of the same families are finding it difficult to pay the rent or obtain affordable housing. In an effort to help them – as well as homeless individuals and domestic-violence victims – the Burlington County Commissioners have created a grant program to help locate housing.
Commissioners voted on Nov. 2 to use $3 million of the county’s allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to fund the program, according to county spokesperson David Levinsky of the Public Information Office.
“Housing insecurity and homelessness are issues that impact our entire county,” he said. “No municipality is immune, and no individual or family should be denied the opportunity to live in Burlington County and benefit from our schools, services and overall quality of life because of insufficient affordable housing opportunities.
“Burlington County is a premier destination where families want to live and businesses want to be, and a major reason why is our affordability,” noted Commissioner Dan O’Connell. “We want all residents to be able to live securely and benefit from our county’s great schools, job opportunities, parks and overall quality of life.
“Taking action to support affordable housing is key.”
“Our board has made it our mission to eliminate homelessness in Burlington County and we’ve taken some important steps towards that objective,” said Commissioner Felicia Hopson, liaison to the Department of Human Services. “We’re proud of the programs we’ve created and the assistance our county has provided.
“At the same time, we recognize that more needs to be done and far too many residents continue to face housing hardships and pressures because of rising rents or soaring home prices,” she added. “We believe this new grant program can have a meaningful impact by supporting those nonprofits that are working to create more affordable housing options for those already living and working in our county.”
As for how nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity or Providence House can apply for some of the federal funds, “program guidance and official notices of grant opportunities are still being developed,” Levinsky explained. “They will be listed on the website, and anyone who is interested in applying for funding should register with our bid portal for notification. It can be found at https://burlcobids.ionwave.net/Login.aspx.
“The grants are to help not-for-profit organizations create or build new affordable housing units in the county, so any eligible entity that is seeking to fulfill that objective can apply,” he added. “We believe the addition of more affordable units will ultimately make it easier for the Burlington County Housing Hub to assist individuals or families who are facing housing pressures or who are homeless.”
Commissioners and the Housing Hub will help publicize new affordable-housing opportunities that are created from outside sources, according to Levinsky. The grant program follows the county’s successful partnership with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to distribute emergency rental assistance to county families facing hardships during COVID.
More than $13 million was distributed to over 1,700 households,” said Levinsky, who pointed out that before the pandemic, in 2019, the county had started the Housing Hub at the Department of Human Services building to provide a single location for residents experiencing housing hardships.
“Since then, the Housing Hub has assisted thousands of residents and offered help ranging from emergency shelter and rental assistance to aid for other housing expenses such as security deposits, utility fees, application fees and credit reviews,” Levinsky noted.
Due to those efforts, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county in 2022 declined 3 percent compared with 2021. Burlington was only one of seven counties in the state that saw a decrease, Levinsky said.