Taking the mission 'to another level'
Post 107 Commander John Carey and Post Finance Officer Mark Villamar look over plans for the post's renovation.

Taking the mission 'to another level'

Like many American Legion posts in New Jersey, Tom Kennedy Post 107 in Hoboken was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Part of the post was under more than six feet of water. Walls were damaged, files lost and memorabilia destroyed. National Emergency Fund helped with some short-term problems, but the post’s insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of repairs. More money was needed to reopen the post.

The Hoboken community, led by its Rotary Club, conducted fundraisers to help get the post back on its feet. Furniture was donated, and volunteers helped put up new drywall and paint the inside. The post facility reopened in early 2015.

While the post could have continued to exist in its current state, the membership was looking at some renovations that would help deter the same type of damage incurred in 2012 if another hurricane or superstorm occurred.

That’s when Post 107 was approached by Monarch Housing Associates, a nonprofit that, among other missions, works with consumers, providers and family organizations to develop, manage and operate permanent, affordable and supportive housing for the homeless.

There were funds still available through Monarch to assist with housing issues brought on by Sandy “that Monarch thought would be useful in rebuilding our post at the same time as adding some housing for homeless veterans,” Post 107 Finance Officer Mark Villamar said.

The post was available to get funding to build six apartments that will provide permanent housing for homeless veterans who will be charged a maximum of 30 percent of their income for rent. That resulted in the post redesigning its rebuilding plans to incorporate the apartments in the five-story building; one floor will serve as the post home, and three floors each will house two apartments.

The post was given approval by city officials to use 20 feet east of Post 107’s current building to expand for the sake of adding the new apartments. The plans for the building also were approved. Construction is supposed to start in October, and the occupants have to be in place by Dec. 31, 2017.

“Now we’re having the plans drawn up – the actual construction documents,” Villamar said. “We’ve got three contractors who are willing to do the work for us, and we’re starting to generate some interest to help support the other costs associated with it that are not covered by these grants.”

The Monarch grant provides $250,000 for each apartment unit, Villamar said. Any costs above and beyond that have to come from another source.

“We’re going to start a campaign of fundraising to try to generate enough money to cover the costs that may be above $250,000 per unit (and the post home),” Villamar said. “Construction is very expensive here. More importantly … there’s got to be two stairways. There’s got to be an elevator. It’s got to be. It’s all got to meet (Americans with Disabilities Act requirements). And we’ll make it so we can expand the project … if and when we get any more (housing) vouchers.

“We’re going to beat the bushes of the local developers, banks, community institutions that typically come and support activities such as this. And we’re going to talk to a fundraiser to help in this process.”

The Hudson County Division of Housing and Community Development, which maintains a list of homeless veterans in the county, will determine eligibility for the apartments. The local homeless veterans shelter also will provide counseling to residents of the apartments.

The post will maintain the property, collect any rent and pay the bills.

The idea is to get the apartment residents to join the post. “They’ll come to our meetings, come to our functions and presumably help get them reintegrated back into society," Villamar said. “Before any of these people became homeless – each and every one of them, without exception – was capable of passing a physical and mental test that the military imposes on them. The fact that they’re now homeless most likely has something to do with what happened to them while they were in the service.”

Post 107 Commander John Carey said the post membership was quick to accept Monarch’s approval. “Everybody was behind (building the apartments),” he said. “They’re (praising) us for this. The sad part is it’s only six units.”

However, the decision to expand its current building to include the new apartments has left Post 107 in a bit of a situation. Because Monarch’s grant is expressly for the apartments, the post now is looking at ways it can fund the construction of the post home portion of the building.

“My joke is we’re building housing for the homeless vets, but we’re going to be homeless,” Carey said. “We’re gambling that we’re going to get the money. I’ll be honest: When Sandy hit, we had a couple of checks – I remember one came from California for $1,500. How did these people, other posts, know about us? I think once people hear, we’ll get some (help). We’re trying to take (the post’s mission) to another level.”

For more information about Post 107, contact Post Commander John Carey at (201) 988-4561 or via email at americanlegion107nj@aol.com.