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Proposed Housing Complex in Trenton Will Be Designed by Michael Graves Firm

Ysolt Usigan

In Trenton's Wilbur section, where 23 percent of residents live below the poverty line, a block may someday be transformed by the Princeton architectural firm of Michael Graves & Associates.

The firm recently presented a conceptual design for a low-income housing development on East State Street between South Cook and Hampton avenues to Father Brian McCormick, founder and president of Martin House, an inner-city organization which has been constructing low-income housing for more than 30 years.

"The proposed design is a general idea of the direction the project should take," said Gary Lapera, principal architect for the project. "We have a long way to go."

The early plans shows four sections with ten houses each facing community gardens, which are accessible only to residents. Each 1,280-square-foot unit will contain three bedrooms on the second floor, with a kitchen, dining room or family room, bathroom, and living room on the first floor.

Affordability is obviously an issue," said Mr. Lapera. "The development will be bordered by costly brick walls which take into account the neighborhood's safety, and a brick facade. A less-expensive wood siding will comprise the other walls."

Security Is Important

Security is also a major concern, said Susan McCoy, a Princeton physician who is on the Martin House board of directors. "Having the houses facing inward rather than facing the street is also a safety precaution."

The houses would be constructed through a Martin House program, Better Community Housing of Trenton, which builds and rehabilitates housing units for sale to low-income families and individuals. About 15 houses are completed each year.

Graves' Design at No Cost

The award-winning Graves architectural firm has agreed to design the Trenton development at no cost. The houses would be of modular construction, whereby units are constructed in a factory and trucked to their final location.

The project transpired as a result of the friendship between Dr. McCoy and Susan Howard, a principal of Graves's firm and its chief financial officer. Mr. Lapera said the firm was delighted to work on the project.

The City of Trenton has acquired most of the block proposed for the housing complex. "However," said Dennis Gonzalez, director of housing and economic development for Trenton, "If negotiation does not work with a particular owner, the city will commence legal proceedings to acquire a property. With the city's continued help, I am confident that Better Community Housing will succeed."

Father McCormick hopes for a timely project, with completion within 16 months after the work begins. He said he has been assured by the city that this can be done.

Sweat Equity

Most of the money required for the new housing has been raised through Martin House's "100 Houses for 100 Families" campaign," along with some governmental assistance. The houses, which will cost $60,000 to construct, will be sold for $21,000 to members of Martin House's sweat equity program. Home owners will pay $152 a month for the next 11 years after putting down a $936 deposit.

Home owners are also required to attend community meetings twice a month and take classes in plumbing, carpentry and electricity. In addition, they will have to put in 100 hours working on their own home, as well as 50 hours helping with someone else's house.

The Martin House program provides affordable and attractive homes for low-income people at a cost they can afford, said Father McCormick. He added that everyone at Martin House is hoping that Michael Graves's' participation will draw attention to the project.

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