TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would authorize the state to sell 15.5 acres of land and improvements which are currently part of East Jersey State Prison to the Township of Woodbridge to be remediated as low-income, special needs housing was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Monday by a vote of 9-4.
“During difficult economic times, it’s hard to get investors to put capital into building any housing stock, let alone housing stock for low-income, special needs residents,” said Vitale, D-Middlesex. “However, there’s a greater need than ever before for affordable housing and community-based housing for people with disabilities. By remediating existing surplus state property, we can put the East Jersey State Prison property to good use, and increase our affordable housing stock in Woodbridge at a fraction of the cost of constructing new homes.”
The bill, S-1929, would authorize the State Treasurer to sell and convey to Woodbridge Township 15.5 acres of property that’s been identified as surplus and is currently part of East Jersey Prison. The property in question includes four former employee residences, including a house that had previously been used by the facility’s warden. Under the bill, Woodbridge would acquire the property for a nominal fee, and would develop and remediate the property to create new special needs housing which fulfills a portion of the municipality’s fair share obligation under the state’s affordable housing laws.
Vitale said that he’s been promoting the repurposing of the East Jersey prison property since he served as Interim Mayor of Woodbridge in 2006. He said that, with its proximity to the Woodbridge Developmental Center, the property in question would allow Developmental Center residents who wish to live in the community and whose needs allow them to live in supervised apartments to transition to community-based care.
At the same time, the proximity to the Developmental Center allows the municipality to experiment with repurposing Developmental Center staff to help in their clients’ transitions. Vitale said that if this experiment proves successful, it could become a statewide model for transitioning developmental center residents into a community setting.
“Not only is this a cost-effective solution to provide community housing for people with developmental disabilities, but it creates a unique opportunity to create a seamless transition for them,” said Vitale. “Transitioning from the structured environment of a developmental center to a supervised community setting can be a difficult process for some, but having developmental center staff a block away could help ease that transition. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we provide enough support and assistance to residents with developmental disabilities to allow them to live and ultimately thrive in a community-based setting..”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
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