Thousands of people on the Jersey Shore lost their homes in Superstorm Sandy three-plus years ago. Billions of federal dollars were allocated for parts New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, including money for affordable housing in New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean counties.

The Walters Homes Group, based in Barnegat, New Jersey, launched its affordable housing unit in 2008. The company had completed a few projects in the area when Sandy hit in 2012. Since then, as the area has been rebuilt and federal dollars have been allocated, the Walters Group has been awarded eight affordable multi-housing communities in the area. One project, Cornerstone at Toms River, broke ground in late January.

Cornerstone at Toms River
Cornerstone at Toms River

The community will feature 102 affordable rental units built on an 11-acre site in Tomas River entirely for people at least 55 years old. The Walters Group will build and then manage the property.

As the units begin to be leased up, Sandy victims will have first dibs – it’s a mandate since the money funding it stems from Sandy relief. “Toms River was one of the most heavily impacted Sandy towns in Ocean County,” said Ed Speitel, Jr., head of land development for the Walters Group, when the project was announced. “But even before Sandy hit, Walters was looking to broaden its reach into the affordable housing arena. After Sandy, we saw a great demand for this type of housing because people lost their homes and were displaced.”

Ed Walters Jr., founder and partner at the Walters Group, says the area sorely needs affordable housing after decades of insufficient output in that market.

“It’s one of the most needed types of housing we need in the state of New Jersey,” he says, adding that it’s common for people to work in an affluent community but unable to afford to live there and send their children to its better schools. Since schools are funded through property taxes, he notes, more affluent neighborhoods have more money for schools and more opportunities for children. “It’s a terrible situation that we’ve created in our society…”

Walters says there are always a lot of misconceptions about what affordable housing means and this project was no different. Residents already in an area often push back against affordable housing developments, he adds, but their worries are misguided.

“Once we build the community and we manage it, they find that the people who are living there are just good, everyday people,” he says. “Just because somebody doesn’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.”

It’s an issue Walters is passionate about and one his company is becoming more involved in. Each of the eight affordable housing projects that have been awarded Walters Group are currently in either the construction or planning phases.

“It’s nice being a real estate developer, where you’re always tagged as the guy with the black hat, it’s nice being able to get involved with a development that really changes and benefits people’s lives,” he says.

The complex will consist of a three-story apartment building containing one- and two-bedroom floorplans, encompassing 94 one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units. A 7,000-square-foot community clubhouse will offer a long list of amenities including a kitchen area, game room, state-of-the-art fitness area, conference room, and more. The project should open in June 2017.

Cornerstone at Barnegat
Cornerstone at Barnegat

To accommodate the seniors who will soon be living there, buildings will offer a washer/dryer in each unit, wheelchair access, and elevators. “As Ocean County’s population ages, it’s important to offer a variety of housing options so that lower-income residents can remain in their communities,” said Speitel last month. “This project is well-suited to older people seeking to downsize and reduce expenses and maintenance responsibilities.”

The Walters Group also recently broke ground on a similar project nearby, Cornerstone at Barnegat, which will be a 70-unit affordable rental community for seniors.