May 4, 2022

Two Families Get Keys to Their Future At Ceremony in Witherspoon-Jackson

FRONT TO BACK: This duplex on Lytle Street, built by volunteers led by Habitat for Humanity of South Central New Jersey, is now home to two new owners as part of an affordable housing project that has been underway since 2015.

By Anne Levin

It has taken seven years, but a slender lot on Lytle Street in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood is now the site of a front-to-back duplex, housing two income-qualified families.

Owners of the two homes on Lytle Street, next to the Mary Moss Playground, were officially handed the keys at a ceremony last week, attended by local government officials as well as representatives from Princeton University and Habitat for Humanity of South Central New Jersey (Habitat SCNJ), which built the homes.

“We had quite a big turnout,” said Annie Fox, chief development officer for Habitat SCNJ. “As a matter of fact, it was so big that we had to move it outside. I know it sounds cliché, but you could really see and feel all the love. Everyone was so happy to see this happen.”

In March 2015, Princeton Council voted to set aside funds to acquire the two lots at 31-33 Lytle Street. Three years later, the property was named as a potential site where housing would be built in order to meet the municipality’s affordable housing obligation. Many neighbors wanted to see the house
be rehabilitated rather than razed, but it was determined that it could not be saved.

The Collingswood-based firm OSK Design Partners designed the project, which is on an exceptionally narrow lot. Plans to use the old porch were abandoned when it could not be salvaged, but it was replicated. “There was a lot of concern about the look and the historic aspect,” said Fox. “The lot being so skinny, we were really worried at first about how we would fit two houses. But the architect did a fantastic job of doing a front-to-back design.”

One of the houses has two bedrooms; the other has three. Each are equipped with new appliances and have both on- and off-street parking.

The owner of the smaller home is moving from Camden, where she lived in an unsafe neighborhood. Princeton is closer to her job as a supervisor with the New Jersey Turnpike, Fox said. The family next door has been renting locally for more than 16 years “and have long desired to become homeowners,” according to a press release. “With the rising cost of rent and the competitive housing market, they were unsure if they were ever going to own their own home. The family felt extremely fortunate to be selected for an affordable home in Princeton, viewing it as a step towards stability for their family.”

As Habitat homeowners, the residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their income on principal, taxes, and homeowner insurance.

Funding partners for the project included the municipality, Princeton University, The McAlpin Foundation, the late Betty Wold Johnson, Wells Fargo, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Trinity Church, and the Merancas Foundation.

“The most rewarding part of this is having the opportunity for someone to live in such an amazing community, with access to great schools, a downtown, and a wonderful neighborhood,” said Fox. “Seeing the community support from the town, the neighbors, and the University, has been amazing to us. This is a true example of how communities should come together to build.”