After spending a year interning at the Diocesan Housing Services Corporation of the Diocese of Camden, Inc. (DHSC), I learned the process of developing and managing “affordable housing” for very low to moderate-income persons in Southern New Jersey.
What I didn’t expect was to learn a concept academia failed to mention but brought to life by DHSC — that everyone, especially those of lower income, deserves not only “affordable” housing but also “luxury” housing.
I came to this conclusion after learning that the group of very low to moderate income persons DHSC serves includes the very low to the highly educated. Finding out who lives in DHSC’s “luxury” affordable housing and how DHSC’s housing affects their lives was the best part of the entire experience at DHSC. The benefits affordable “luxury” housing provides to residents are worth all the money spent and all the time and manpower expended.
In August, I sent a survey to every DHSC’s housing development in which residents were asked to answer at least 10 questions. The response rate varied among four sites —Victorian Towers (Cape May), Davenport Village (Hainesport), Village Apartments of Cherry Hill (Cherry Hill Township), and Shepherd’s Farm (West Deptford Township) — totaling 110 responses.
As expected from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 202 program restrictions, a large majority of residents are over 62 years old with 26 percent ranging from 81 to 90 years old. Almost all have lived in DHSC’s housing development for at least a year, while half have been a resident for longer than five years.
Almost half waited less than a year to acquire a DHSC’s housing unit due to the lottery system of choosing qualified tenants. For those remaining, almost half waited from one to two years, with a few residents waiting three or more years before DHSC’s housing unit became available.
A third of the residents who responded were veterans or in the military. Occupations varied widely from salesperson/cashier, waitress, dispatcher, hairstylist and factory worker to teacher to auditing examiner. There was a crossing guard, registered nurse, youth counselor, floral designer, residential aide, compliance auditor, IRS tax auditor, insurance underwriter, paraprofessional aide to children with autism, cardiopulmonary technologist, traffic analyst and skin care specialist among many more.
The wide range of occupations was the most shocking finding from the survey. Almost all lived in New Jersey for over 20 years. Some were born and raised in South Jersey, and none have been a New Jersey resident for less than a year.
Over half (62 percent) of the respondents agreed living in DHSC’s housing is both “affordable” to their budget and a “luxury” that has empowered them; developed or kept their dignity; led them to become more optimistic in life, self-sufficient, independent, and feel more secure in their residential environment.
Affordable “luxury” housing further led them to become more socially active, and to save more money to purchase other essentials. Almost all (98 percent) of the respondents said DHSC’s housing empowered them to reach their highest potential.
One resident at Davenport Village said, “I’m happy to be a resident here, at least until I can buy a house of my own. Thank you.”
A mother with children at the same site said, “My children are very comfortable and feel a sense of security.”
At the Village Apartments in Cherry Hill, one senior stated that “the feeling of home, belonging, or being welcomed has been and is a special part of living here.”
The faith-based connection DHSC’s housing sites has is a plus. It is one reason why a few of the respondents purposely chose to live in DHSC’s units. As one respondent from Stonegate said, “I am thankful because it’s close to the church of St. Stephen.”
Why do residents at DHSC’s housing developments feel these positive impacts? DHSC’s builds and manages “luxury” housing that have the following characteristics:
— cleanliness at its sites;
— site locations with external advantages (e.g. Davenport Village is in Hainesport with nearby shopping, recreation, churches and a good school district);
— lower energy costs (because DHSC institutes Energy Star appliances and other sustainable building methods);
— better unit appliances (which also helps lower energy costs);
— a faith-based association with the Catholic Church;
— a welcoming, decent physical interior and exterior;
— a secure environment;
— a professional and caring property management team, plus the offerings of various social events and amenities throughout the year.
The highest traits that respondents said distinguishes their DHSC’s housing site from other affordable housing units are cleanliness, site location, good property management, secure environment, and lower energy costs.
Those distinguishing traits make sense because now I’m in Hong Kong where the basic principle of supply and demand makes a square foot extraordinarily expensive. I wish the DHSC could build affordable “luxury” housing for the vanishing middle-class and the growing poor.
Kwan Hui, Intern, Diocesan Housing Services Corporation of the Diocese of Camden, Inc.