From left: state Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight; Sandra Garcia, development associate with Tantum Real Estate; Debra Tantleff, founding principal of Tantum; Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop; state Sen. Sandra Cunningham; U.S. Rep Donald M. Payne Jr.; Assemblyman Raj Mukerjhi; and Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman were among those on hand Tuesday to mark the opening of a new 20-unit affordable veterans housing building at 526 Ocean Ave. in Jersey City. — Courtesy: Tantum
By Joshua Burd
Tantum Real Estate has opened the doors to a new boutique apartment building in Jersey City that will provide affordable housing to military veterans and other residents.
Located in the city’s Greenville section, the 20-unit property at 526 Ocean Ave. is geared specifically toward former service members and includes three units designated for those that are homeless. Seven veterans are slated to lease homes at the building — with its first residents slated to move in this week — marking a milestone as the developer on Tuesday welcomed public officials and its project team to unveil the long-awaited project.
“I knew that entering the affordable housing space was going to be a very intense endeavor, and one that would take a lot of time to cultivate,” said Debra Tantleff, Tantum’s founding principal. “I did not realize the fundamental support and encouragement that I would receive from everyone around me. This project is possible because of partnership and because of public investment made into our collective vision.”
Tantum, an active supporter of Israeli military veterans, said the project provided a chance to combine that passion with her own visions of economic development. In addition to its mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, the building includes 1,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space that will house community-based services promoting responsibility, recovery and wellness.
That mission has struck a chord with stakeholders including Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“As a veteran myself, I certainly know the challenges that veterans face when they come home, the struggles that their families have faced while they were away and the financial hardship that many slip into because of that journey,” Fulop said. “And you being able to play a small part in providing housing and resources for some of them really is a testament to your personality and your commitment, so thank you for all that you do for Jersey City.”
Fulop noted that the project faced challenges during the development process, but came to fruition thanks to the Tantum team’s “unwavering commitment and just sheer force of personality.” That team, led by Tantleff and Sandra Garcia, guided the project alongside a group of professionals that included Sweetwater Construction, George Garcia of Connell Foley LLP, Nancy Dougherty and Tim Mendez of Studio 1200 and Mark Vizzini of Dresdner Robin.
Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, a Freehold-based nonprofit, will occupy the ground-floor multipurpose space and provide support services to veterans. Its affiliate, Community Enterprises Corporation, will manage the multipurpose space and the apartments.
“We know homelessness ends with housing, but we also know that support services play a huge role in keeping people housed,” said Carol Sainthilaire, CEO of Community Enterprises Corporation. “The tenants in this building are lucky that they’re going to have Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey in the space. They’re going to be here to help them access local resources, food, financial programs, mental health services, groups — and they will help them from day one as much as they need or as little as they need.”
Tantum arranged project financing from multiple sources, including funding from Jersey City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and capital from The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which was provided through both the municipality and Hudson County.
Now complete, the four-story building also pays tribute to veterans with a new street-level mural along Ocean Avenue, which Tantum sourced through the Jersey City Mural Arts Program. Titled “Red Tales,” the piece by artist Vincent Ballentine depicts the iconic Tuskegee Airmen of World War II and the Navy’s S-2 aircraft, paying tribute to Sweetwater’s late founder, Ronald C. Witt Sr., a pilot who rose to the rank of captain during 30 years of active and reserve duty.
Those on hand also included state Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, the daughter of a Marine and widow of former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, who also served in the corps. Homelessness among veterans is a growing problem, she said, adding that she was “so happy for this project because this is a step in the right direction.”
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. offered a similar message, citing federal data that shows that some 76,000 U.S. veterans are sleeping on the street and that ex-military personnel are twice as likely to be homeless as the general population.
“It’s just really an honor to have a complex such as this in my district, knowing that it is benefiting our bravest coming back from wherever we ask them to go in the world,” Payne said during Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “So thank you for doing this, and it’s one small step in solving a problem. Now we need people to replicate this.”
In a separate news release, Dresdner Robin noted that it provided engineering design analysis and expert testimony on site planning and design, contributing to a 2017 approval for the project by the Jersey City planning board. The firm secured municipal entitlements and necessary regulatory land use permits, while providing plan construction drawings and construction administration services.
“This is an excellent addition to the city, and it’s fulfilling to have the opportunity to provide our services on a project like this,” said Vizzini, an associate director of land development and project manager for the Tantum plan. “The facility’s amenities will go far beyond just housing. It will provide counseling and support to our local veterans, and strengthen the Jersey City community as a whole.”