For New Jersey developer Community Investment Strategies (CIS), Superstorm Sandy changed the way it thinks about building, rehabbing, and operating affordable housing.
The developer was one of a dozen affordable housing organizations in New Jersey and New York selected to be part of Enterprise Community Partners’ three-year Learning Collaborative for Multifamily Housing Resilience program following the massive storm that slammed the region in October 2012.
The Learning Collaborative provided a chance for its members to learn from one another, share their challenges and lessons, and gain key support in the recovery and rebuilding processes.
“The Learning Collaborative has really changed the way I think about design, development, and new construction in a way that so many things have become a matter of course,” says Barbara Schoor, vice president at CIS. “Certain things have become inherent in the way we now do business.”
The developer touted some of the lessons it learned during a hard-hat tour of its latest development, Bayshore Village, in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown, N.J., for state and local officials as well as other partners a few days before the fourth anniversary of Sandy.
The 110-unit development, which is set to be completed this spring, is replacing a 96-unit affordable senior community that was partially destroyed by Sandy.
The property had been constructed in 1974 and had been owned and operated by small nonprofit Middletown Senior Citizens Housing Corp. During the storm, the single-story, ground-level patio homes had to be evacuated in the middle of the night as the site began to flood. Post-Sandy, 48 households weren’t able to return. The nonprofit looked for ways to rebuild, replace, and restore the property.
It turned to CIS to look at the possibility of restructuring a financial package to get the property back on its feet. The developer identified it as a poster project for Sandy recovery funds, acquiring it and positioning it to compete for the money, which it finally obtained with a lot of effort and help from public officials.
“We certainly weren’t going to rebuild back what was there,” says Schoor. “We needed to think about how we could make the property as resilient as we could considering the location.”
The first step was to raise the elevation of the entire site, including the parking area, with fill material so it would be above the preliminary flood elevations for which the state had issued mapping.
Having an elevated site instead of an elevated building is creating a more accessible building for the senior population. Raising the site also helps to bring the underground utilities and mechanical systems that had been compromised by saltwater during Sandy above the floodplain. The team also created an area on the site where stormwater and potential floodwaters could be contained to protect the surrounding community.
Building techniques and materials, including impact-resistant windows, have been utilized to make the building more resistant to wind and water penetration. The building also will feature emergency lighting, and a large emergency generator will power the security and controlled-entry systems, the fire alarm system, elevators, common areas, stairwells, and hallways.
The community room has been designed to be an emergency refuge for residents with heat and air-conditioning and also includes a bathroom with a shower connected to the generator.
Schoor says the last thing that came out of the collaborative was education and engagement to help make the residents as resilient as the building. “We have a program that we have developed with our resident coordinator that not only teaches and sets expectations of residents of our role as the landlord but also their role as a responsible citizen on how to be prepared for a storm or a power outage,” she says.
Approximately 40 residents from the original property are set to return to the new building this spring, and Middletown Senior Citizens Housing Corp. will assist with resident services and social and recreational programming.
Financing for the $31.4 million development included tax-exempt bonds and Sandy Disaster Recovery Community Development Block Grant funds provided by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency as well as low-income housing tax credit equity syndicated by Enterprise Community Investment, with JPMorgan Capital Corp. as the investor.
“It’s really exciting to see brick-and-mortar results from the work we have done over the years,” says Laurie Schoeman, program director of resilient communities at Enterprise Community Partners. “By sharing challenges we were able to develop tools to support these organizations in their recovery and resilience building.”
The Learning Collaborative also helped Enterprise launch a set of tools and protocols to help other organizations gauge their level of preparedness, assess physical vulnerabilities, and provide guidance for resident engagement.
With more declared disasters over the last decade by FEMA, it’s imperative for multifamily housing organizations to think about disaster preparedness and resiliency around the nation, says Schoeman.
Enterprise provides key tools for developers on its website, http://www.enterprisecommunity.org/solutions-and-innovation/green-communities/tools-and-services/ready-to-respond. The four primary tools are a survey to determine an organization’s preparedness level; a disaster staffing toolkit; strategies for multifamily building resilience; and more than 100 training videos, including how to eradicate mold after an event to flood perimeter protection.
The Enterprise team also continues to help with disaster recovery on the ground across the nation. It has been helping with the recovery after the massive flooding in Baton Rouge, La., and with a group in Atlanta following Hurricane Matthew.