Woodrow Wilson Commons represents a fresh start in Long Branch, N.J.
The new 173-unit community replaces a blighted 1950s-era, barracks-style public housing complex with a smart mix of townhouses, flats, and duplexes over flats that reflect the region’s historic homes.
The sweeping redevelopment by Pennrose Properties and Maestro Community Development Corp., the development subsidiary of the City of Long Branch Housing Authority, has been selected the overall winner in Affordable Housing Finance’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards.
“Woodrow Wilson Commons has been a huge success,” says Jacob Fisher, senior developer at Pennrose. “The development is a 100% improvement over the dilapidated public housing that it replaced. It is a beautiful addition to the neighborhood and a testament to the resiliency of the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.”
The changes were far and deep. The old public housing site was designed as a campus, with limited ingress and egress points and minimal connectivity to the surrounding neighborhood. Most apartments in the old public housing faced into the center of the site or toward other adjoining buildings, not public streets.
To improve the community, the developers reconfigured the streets to reconnect the development to the surrounding neighborhood. All apartments are situated to encourage residents to take ownership of the public realm and provide “eyes on the street.” The two large superblocks of the former site were broken up into smaller blocks while still adding 18 more units.
For a long time, the property was known locally as “Lake Woodrow” because the site was a topographic “bowl,” which collected runoff water from surrounding streets and private yards and focused it into an infiltration pit at the center of the site. During particularly wet spring thaws, the middle of the site would flood, sometimes several feet deep, stranding tenants in their apartments.
To solve this problem, the developers took the bowl-shaped topography of the old site and regraded it to raise the ground floors of buildings above the flood line. They also created a central “raingarden” to showcase stormwater management best practices and provide a meaningful public open space.
Completed in October 2014, Woodrow Wilson Commons features a diverse mix of public, affordable, and special-needs housing, with a sprinkling of market-rate units. Two phases are certified LEED-Gold. In addition to the housing, the new development has a community center complete with a 1,000-square-foot community room, a management office, and space for the housing authority’s maintenance department.
The $45.8 million project was built in three phases, with each receiving separate low-income housing tax credit allocations. The $15.2 million final phase included 51 units. In addition to housing credit equity from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the phase utilized Hurricane Sandy recovery funds.
The development represents a continuing collaboration between Pennrose and the housing authority, which have joined forces to develop several other projects over the years.
“These efforts have made major changes to neighborhoods and the face of public housing,” Fisher says.
From 112 nominations received this year, 34 finalists were selected in nine categories. AHF magazine and newsletter subscribers then voted for the winners in each category. An Editors’ Choice winner was also selected.
The other winners are:
Family: Sage Park Apartments in Los Angeles by BRIDGE Housing;
Historic Rehab: A-Mill Artist Lofts in Minneapolis by Dominium;
Master-Planned/Mixed-Use: Shops and Lofts at 47 in Chicago by The Community Builders (residential) and Skilken and Troy Enterprises (commercial);
Preservation: Azusa Apartments in Azusa, Calif., by Community HousingWorks;
Public Housing Redevelopment: Rush Crossing in Trenton, N.J., by Pennrose Properties and Trenton Housing Authority;
Rural: Seton Village in Emmitsburg, Md., by Homes for America;
Seniors: Vera Haile Senior Housing in San Francisco by Mercy Housing California;
Special-Needs: Metro East 99th Street in New York City by SKA Marin;
Urban: Hope Manor II in Chicago by Volunteers of America of Illinois and Volunteers of America; and
Uptown Lofts on Fifth in Pittsburgh by ACTION-Housing.