Vol. LXI, No. 36
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
AFFORDABLE OPPORTUNITIES: "I hope that what I've done is to create an opportunity so that people can make a difference in their own lives." Marcy Crimmins, Director of Management and Finance at Princeton Community Housing, has spent many years helping people find housing at affordable prices.
A roof over your head, a house to call your own basic for so many, out-of-reach for so many others. It has been Marcy Crimmins' goal to help people find a way to achieve this most essential need.
Concern for others came early to her. The example was set by her family, and Marcy soon learned to place a value on helping other people.
"Most of my early memories revolve around World War II," she recalls. "I was born before the war, and I remember food and gas rationing, collections in school, and making tin foil balls for the war effort. It was a national involvement.
"My mother was in the Red Cross and drove in the Motor Corps. She picked up soldiers and prisoners of war, and drove them to their destinations. I really looked up to her. She was a volunteer at Grasslands, a TB hospital in White Plains, N.Y., and she was also active in Planned Parenthood. Later, she went to work in the Darien, Conn. library."
Born in New York City, Marcy was the younger daughter of Fritzi and Jack Tench. Her sister, Diana, was four years older. Mr. Tench, an engineer, was involved in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. "He had a patent for a welding process, and he had a small part in the Manhattan Project," says Ms. Crimmins."
The family moved to Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. when Marcy was a baby, and they lived there for 12 years. She looks back on a very happy childhood. "In Croton, my friends and I went to the movies on weekends it was 25 cents! I always liked the Dixie cups with the pictures of the stars on the lid. I also remember being taken out of school to see 'National Velvet.'
"I loved to read as a girl, especially horse stories, such as The Black Stallion series, and also Nancy Drew. I still like mysteries."
It was a time of unstructured activity and spontaneous fun, she remembers. "In Croton, our house was across the street from the woods, and my friends and I played there all the time. Also, my family rented a house in Madison, Conn. on Long Island Sound every summer. It was idyllic. I'd get on my bike in the morning, be out all day, and come home for supper. It was wonderful."
The family moved to Darien, Conn. when Marcy was 13, and the next year, she attended boarding school at Westover, a girls' school, in Middlebury, Conn. "I loved Westover," she says. "It was a family tradition. My mother went there, also my sister, and later, one of my daughters. I especially liked history, and Miss Pratt was a wonderful teacher. I had her for three years, starting with ancient history. Miss Pratt that was the only name we knew her by.
"I was also on the debating team. It was wonderful training. It is especially important to be given something to debate with which you disagree. You have to defend it, serve as the devil's advocate."
Marcy was also active in sports, playing field hockey and tennis. Life at school very much revolved around the campus, she notes, recalling, "We had Saturday classes, and we could only leave school one weekend a year, except for vacations."
Close friendships resulted, and Ms. Crimmins continues to keep in touch with a number of classmates. She also serves as co-chairman of the steering committee for the school's Centennial.
After graduation in 1956, she attended Bryn Mawr, majoring in political science. "I particularly liked the fact that at Bryn Mawr, they assumed you were an adult. The work was challenging, and one of my political science professors, Mr. Bachrach, really taught me how to think. I enjoyed history courses, too, but my hardest course was geology. I liked it, but it was hard to distinguish all those rocks from each other."
Marcy also took courses at Haverford, the nearby men's college, and in her senior year, she was president of the Bryn Mawr undergraduate association.
Graduation was followed by a move to New York City and a job at the Collegiate Council for the United Nations. "It was a great job," she reports. "Someone knew someone, and I was in the right place at the right time. We ran mock U.N.s at colleges all over the U.S., and kept colleges up-to-date on the U.N. activities.
"I had an apartment in Manhattan with four girls from Bryn Mawr. I made $75 a week, and paid $75 a month for rent. It was such a good time, and I love New York to this day."
A nasty case of mononucleosis interrup-ted her Big Apple sojourn, and Marcy moved back to Connecticut to recuperate. Once recovered, she returned to the city, where she worked for the Conservation Society, exploring the world of film editing.
In 1962, her life changed when she met and married Denny Crimmins, who worked for the Saturday Evening Post, and the couple moved to Philadelphia. Their son Ethan was born there in 1963, and the following year, when Mr. Crimmins transferred to Newsweek in New York, the family moved to Princeton. Later, three daughters, Samantha, Page, and Tory, were born in Princeton.
"I'd been to parties at the University when I was in college, but I didn't really know Princeton," says Ms. Crimmins. She quickly became involved in the community, and though busy with her growing family, she found time to participate in the Bryn Mawr Book Club. "Etched in my kids' memories is moving books around. I'm still a volunteer," she reports.
In 1971, she decided to try her hand at real estate, got a license, and went to work for K.M. Light Real Estate. She didn't know it then, but it would be the launching point of a career dedicated to making affordable housing available for those who need it.
As her long-time friend, Princeton resident Margaret Keenan points out, "Marcy is passionate about affordable housing because it brings diversity to the town. I am so impressed by all that she has done for this community all the volunteer work, as well as her job.
"She is a close friend," continues Ms. Keenan, "and what I especially value is the fact that she is so frank. She doesn't mince words. You always know what she's thinking. She listens to you, too, and she appreciates your point of view. That is so important in a friendship. She has empathy -and a great sense of humor."
Those qualities and more determination, perseverance, and enthusiasm would be necessary for what she was about to undertake.
It began one day, recalls Ms. Crimmins, "When I was driving around, and saw Bunn Drive and Princeton Community Village (PCV). I went back to the office and said, 'That is what I want to do.' Karl Light was great. He contacted Princeton Community Housing (PCH), which had been established in 1967, and his firm was hired as managing agent. I became the first on-site manager of PCV, which was the first major development of Princeton Community Housing.
"I was on-site, working with contractors, taking applications, checking eligibility of applicants. We had 238 units, and thousands of applications. I got so busy that I told Karl we needed more help, and Lucy James became the co-on-site manager. She was hired for three months, and she's still here!"
Karl Light remembers his company's introduction to affordable housing very well. "Marcy and I went into mana-gement of affordable housing in 1975. Together, we evolved a management style and philosophy, so that our experience and learning about it was a joint effort for more than 35 years now. When I retire at the end of this year, and Marcy takes over as chief cook and bottle washer, that philosophy will continue."
Ms. Crimmins worked at PCV from 1975 to 1982, and then became involved in the planning of additional affordable housing developments. Elm Court, with 88 one-bedroom and studio units, opened for low and moderate income elderly residents in 1985, and also includes space for handicapped persons of all ages.
In 1985, PCH purchased 26.5 acres between Cherry Valley Road and Route 206, and began the project known as Griggs Farm. Opened in 1989, it combines privately-owned market-rate townhomes, moderate income sales units, and low income rental units. PCH owns and manages 70 low income rental units within the Griggs Farm community.
Just opened near Elm Court is the Harriet Bryan House, which includes 68 one-bedroom apartments for seniors. With 463 rental units, PCH is the largest provider of low and moderate income rental housing in the Princeton community.
In 1991, Princeton Township took over completion of Griggs Farm, and Ms. Crimmins switched gears for a while, becoming head of Princeton Housing Authority. "The Housing Authority, which had been established in 1938 as a separate section of affordable housing, includes Clay Street, Spruce Circle, Redding Circle, and West Drive," she explains.
"It was intensive, intensive work, very challenging, but I loved it," she adds. "I loved the people, and I marvel at the fact people manage to make it on so little. These are individuals who work, have no benefits, but can still keep going."
Heading the Housing Authority until 1997, Ms. Crimmins was happy to be in another position enabling her to advocate on behalf of such individuals. "I felt good about the years I spent there. During that time, I was on the board of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, which has grown tremendously, and I was also involved with and on the board of Princeton Young Achievers."
In 1997, Ms. Crimmins rejoined K.M. Light Real Estate and PCH, becoming director of management and finance, a position she holds today. "Currently, I oversee all the management and finances for all PCH projects. They are all under the aegis of K.M. Light Real Estate. I prepare the budget, pay bills, prepare monthly reports, and go to the sites once or twice a week. Each site has a manager on-site except for Griggs Farm. The people who work at the sites are really extraordinary. The managers and maintenance staffs do an exceptional job."
It's good she likes working with figures, adds Ms. Crimmins, with a smile. And it's a lot of figures, points out her colleague, PCH executive director, Sandra Persichetti, who has been working with Ms. Crimmins for the past four years.
"I am just amazed at how much she gets done, managing about $75 million worth of real estate particularly because it is overseen both by federal and state governments. Marcy really has a passion for affordable housing, and I think that comes through in her management style. In addition, she is fun to work with!"
Ms. Crimmins adds that one of the pleasures for her is working with such a diverse group of people, especially those who are dedicated to furthering affordable housing. "It is enjoyable to work with a board like that of Princeton Community Housing, one that is so committed to quality affordable housing. To work with someone like Karl is a privilege. He is very supportive and what he has provided is so important. Sandra Persichetti has come in and energized the place, and I also look up to Harriet Bryan who has been so instrumental in establishing affordable housing.
"I will say in regard to my work that one of the hardest things is dealing with two municipalities: Princeton Borough and Princeton Township. If there is one thing I'd change about Princeton, it is to establish consolidation. It just makes sense to do this.
"Also, sometimes, I think the town takes itself a bit too seriously. Some of the officials need a little more of a sense of humor. Mark Freda, when he was on Borough Council, was the liaison with the Housing Authority, and he was great to work with. Very down to earth. Now, his wife Beth Freda, is co-president of the PCH board."
Consolidation notwithstanding, Ms. Crimmins enjoys much about Princeton, including friendships of long-standing and the many cultural and intellectual opportunities available. "I enjoy lectures at the University, I go to McCarter, and I am on the board of the Princeton Adult School, which is a wonderful resource for the community. I've also played bridge with the same group for 40 years, and I am currently in a reading group."
In addition, she has traveled widely, and most recently became a fan of Prague, which she visited with her sister. Somehow, she also finds time to serve as vice president of Wine and Spirits magazine in New York.
Divorced in 1978, Ms. Crimmins is devoted to her children and 10 grandchildren. After the death of her son Ethan in 2006, she has been even more conscious of the need for family in one's life. "Losing a child makes family all the more important," she explains. "I am grateful that my daughters all live in New Jersey, and that I can see them often. This year, Tory will have her 20th Princeton High School reunion. I also have a wonderful daughter-in-law, my son's widow, and I am close to her.
"I thank the Lord, too that I had a job I could go to during that time."
And especially a job that has meant so much to her. Through her work, Ms. Crimmins has been able to help people in numerous ways, and for this, she has been recognized by the community, as well as by the Westover School, which honored her with its annual award to an alumna for service in one's community.
Not one to dwell on awards and honors, Ms. Crimmins is nevertheless proud to have been the first recipient of the prestigious Bud Vivian Award in 1996 "for her vision, leadership, and dedication to the Princeton community."
"There had been a problem at that time in the John-Witherspoon area between the Hispanics and the black residents," she explains. "I thought we could put together a community forum at the Henry Panell Center, bringing the people together. We did, and it was packed with the residents. They had conversations through an interpreter and a question and answer session. It was a positive step at the time.
"Also, Bud Vivian had been on the PCH board, and I knew him well. Because of that, to receive this award meant all the more to me."
Ms. Crimmins remains deeply committed to PCH and its goals, remarking, "I feel very strongly about the need for this kind of housing for people. Those who live in affordable housing contribute as much to this community as the other residents."
It has certainly been a mission worth pursuing, and it is fortunate for Princeton and all its residents that there are dedicated individuals like Ms. Crimmins who lead the way.
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