Kim Mulford, Staff Writer
Courier-Post, A Gannett Company
“CLAYTON – An affordable housing development intended primarily for veterans just moved closer to reality, thanks to $1.7 million in federal tax credits awarded by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
The money will cover about 70 percent of the construction costs for Camp Salute, a 76-unit project conceived by People for People Foundation, a Gloucester County nonprofit established in 2003 to help struggling households.
Allan Connors of Pitman, a Vietnam veteran and People for People volunteer, came up with the idea.
“Camp Salute is a substantive bricks-and-mortar way to salute veterans by doing something,” said Connors, 68. “What’s more substantial than quality housing?”
The project will be developed by Conifer Realty, which bought more than 50 acres of land behind Clayton Mews on Delsea Drive. Much of the property will remain undeveloped.
About 25 percent of the rental units will be fully accessible and reserved for veterans with physical or mental disabilities. Five units will be set aside for homeless veterans. The rest will be available for low- to moderate-income residents, with preference given to veterans, veterans’ widows, families, and Gold Star parents. Each one-, two- and three-bedroom unit will include a patio or balcony.
A community center will include a gym, computer lab, meeting space and offices for People for People, which will offer supportive services for tenants.
The nonprofit is now headquartered in donated space inside an unheated warehouse, said Paul Blackstock, who helped his wife, Bernadette, launch the organization in 2003. The two are also trained veteran service advocates.
“That band of brothers thing is strong,” Blackstock said. “We’re very good at what we do, as far as the veteran benefits are concerned. We’ll go to bat for them.”
The project still needs final site approval from the Clayton Planning Board, said Sam Leone, vice president of Conifer Realty. Construction is expected to begin next spring, and will take about a year to complete.
The developer and nonprofit have been working together on other projects in the county.
“They’ll have a stake in it, just as we do,” Leone said.
“There’s definitely a huge need out there for this,” he added. “It’s definitely the first in Gloucester County, and may be the first in the region.”
People for People will help recruit the tenants and take care of them after they arrive. Rents will be reasonable for the area, said Bernadette Blackstock, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“We do understand because we’ve been working with veterans on a regular basis,” she said. “The need is to have housing that’s safe, secure and affordable.”
The project has received strong support from local politicians. State Sen. President Stephen M. Sweeney called the housing “extremely important.”
“The emphasis on veterans, especially those with disabilities, is the right thing to do,” Sweeney said in a press release. “The funding is also helpful to the entire community because it helps remove any financial responsibility from the county and towns in the area.”