Construction workers broke ground on Airmount Avenue in Ramsey last week to begin building a project that will become a housing development for eight young adults living with autism. According to Mayor Chris Botta, the construction should be finished in about 12 to 14 months.
Airmount Woods is a 600,000 sq. foot development being built on a 1.3-acre plot of land owned by the borough, and is being built by the Bergen County United Way as an affordable housing unit.
According to BCUW President Tom Toronto, the development plans for two houses connected by a breezeway, complete with a patio area and passive recreation spots. Each will have four studio apartments with a central living space, and the entire unit will accommodate four men and four women living with autism.
This kind of housing development “makes sense” in Ramsey for two major reasons, Toronto said. One, because the borough owns the land and was “interested in creating this kind of development on it,” and two, because the Ramsey “school system has a celebrated special needs program. There is obviously a value in this community of supporting people with different abilities."
The borough was inspired by the United Way’s Orchard Commons development in Allendale when deciding on this project, Botta said.
“We were looking to use our Affordable Housing funds, so I called Allendale Mayor Vince Barra to find out more about [Orchard Commons]. I thought it was an excellent idea to have a similar development in our community.”
Botta said the borough has been working with the United Way for over two years on the project. According to Toronto, the whole development will cost about $2.2 million.
It is being funded by a combination of Ramsey’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and grants from the NJHMFA Special Needs Trust, and the Bergen County Division of Community Development HOME and CDBG programs.
“No direct borough funds will be used to complete this project,” Botta said.
The development is owned by Ramsey Housing, Inc., which the mayor said is a “non-profit corporation created and formed by Ramsey residents to oversee the development of special needs housing for young adults with Autism.” The group will oversee construction on the development, he said.
Once it is finished, New Horizons in Autism will staff the development 24 hours a day. Residents who apply to live in Airmount Woods will be chosen from the state’s Division of Disability Services list of over 8,000 people waiting for special needs housing.
“We are trying to make a dent in that number because there is a big need for this type of housing in this area,” Botta said.
Toronto said he hopes to have residents chosen and begin operating in the spring of 2013.