Pennrose Properties took a dilapidated public housing complex and made it into something new. 

Located in Long Branch, N.J., Woodrow Wilson Commons replaces 1950s-era, barracks-style public housing with a fresh mix of townhouses, flats, and duplexes over flats that reflect the region’s historic single-family homes.

“We sought to create buildings that evoked memories of towns and houses that were prevalent at the Jersey Shore 75 years ago when the original Woodrow Wilson complex was developed,” says Jacob Fisher, senior developer at Pennrose Properties. 

The changes went far beyond appearances. The developers reconfigured 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 super-blocks of the former site were broken up into smaller blocks while still adding 18 more units, to create a 173-unit community.

In addition, developers addressed a severe flooding problem. The old property was known locally as “Lake Woodrow” because the site would regularly flood, stranding tenants in their apartments. So the developers created a 1-acre “rain garden” and new infiltration basins to help manage stormwater.

The $45.8 million project was built in three phases, with each receiving separate low-income housing tax credit allocations. The $15.2 million, 51-unit final phase was completed in 2014. In addition to low-income housing tax credit equity from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the phase utilized Hurricane Sandy recovery funds.

The development now features a diverse mix of public, affordable, and special-needs housing, with a sprinkling of market-rate units. Two phases are certified LEED Gold. The project also features a large community building.

Woodrow Wilson Commons was developed in collaboration with Maestro Community Development Corp., the development subsidiary of the City of Long Branch Housing Authority. Pennrose and the housing authority have joined forces to develop about 400 units over the years.

“These efforts have made major changes to neighborhoods and the face of public housing,” Fisher says.