Artist-preferred housing complex opens in Rahway

City, state and local officials cut a ribbon on May 1 at an entrance of the Willows at Rahway, a low-income housing complex with preference for artists.

RAHWAY, NJ — A local metalsmith and two musicians first met while applying in December for the city’s first low-income housing that caters to artists.
Amanda Mikulewicz, who graduated from university two years ago and now makes engagement rings for a living, was second in line to apply for a coveted apartment at The Willows at Rahway, located on Central Avenue in downtown Rahway. First in the line were Karen and Rick Pasek, who have been married 22 years and play together in Karickter, a jazz and R&B band.

“We met on the line and we’ve just been friends since then,” said Karen Pasek at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 58-unit project that took place May 1.
The three artists moved in around April and now enjoy modern amenities, art studios and a community living space just blocks from the Union County Performing Arts Center and Hamilton Stage, at the former site of the Elizabethtown Gas parking lot.

“It definitely helps a lot,” Mikulewicz said of her new apartment. “A lot of people are kind of like, ‘Oh you’re an artist. What are you going to do? You’re not going to get a job. You’re not going to get money.’ Low-income housing catered to artists, with artists’ studios in the building, is amazing.”
State, county and city officials met at the apartment complex to unveil the finished project, touted as a symbol of momentum for a city that has welcomed luxury units, hotels, age-restricted apartments, restaurants and stores in the last few years.

“It’s artist preference, but you do not have to be an artist in order to be able to rent an apartment here,” Mayor Raymond Giacobbe said. “We are an artist community. Our downtown thrives off the arts.”

The county contributed $800,000 in HOME Investment Partnership funds to the project, which includes one- to three-bedroom apartments, furnished sundecks and a fitness center.

“We believe strongly in the message that the mayor of Rahway is putting forward with his council and we continue to have a leading pathway when it comes to affordable housing here in Rahway and the County of Union,” Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados said.

Low-income housing tax credits at 9 percent were awarded by the the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and are expected to generate more than $9 million in private equity. The agency also provided $2.9 million for permanent housing and construction, according to a press release from the agency.

The developer, Ingerman Group, bought the property from the Rahway Redevelopment Agency and established the criteria for “practicing artist.” Applicants had to provide clips of their work and a resume, as well as meet federal income requirements, LocalSource previously reported.

“The Willows at Rahway provides residents with walking access to downtown amenities and public transportation, which is what many residents desire,” NJHMFA Executive Director Charles A. Richman said in a statement. “The use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits has enabled us to broaden the impact of tax credit awards across the state, opening doors to thousands of residents, not only improving their lives, but the greater community as well.”

Sixteen leases already have been signed, Bruce Morgan, of BCM Affordable Housing, said. While those who have signed have not all been practicing artists, they have met federal income requirements, he said.

Rents at The Willows range from $287 to $1,336 per month, according to NJHMFA.