Housing Initiatives of Princeton Embarks On “Ambitious” Plan to Expand Services
By Wendy Greenberg
Even for someone on the verge of homelessness, affordable housing is not just a simple matter of signing up. Qualifying may depend on income level, getting a degree, building a credit score, or obtaining a car to get to a job.
A newly adopted Housing Initiatives of Princeton (HIP) strategic plan charts a three-year path that will enable more clients to navigate the complex process.
“We have seen the transformational effect we’ve had on families’ lives and most significantly on the futures of the children,” said HIP Board Chair Liz Lempert in a press release. Although HIP has depended on a “scrappy and all-volunteer past,” she said, the organization is “compelled to take our service to a new level in order to respond to the overwhelming need resulting from the current housing crisis and the economic traumatic effect of the pandemic.”
Affordable housing, she pointed out, “is not as simple as having your name on a waiting list. “People might not realize that they have to have reasonably good credit and a minimum income.”
That’s where HIP comes in. Under the strategic plan, the organization will be able to help more clients, with the goal of increasing “its long-term, sustainable impact on Princeton’s rent-burdened and housing-insecure population,” said Lempert, the former mayor of Princeton.
Programming, governance, and paid staff and volunteers, are HIP’s priorities, according to a recent press release. Specifically laid out is the goal to add three more transitional housing units to its current seven. Additionally, the organization would like to add more advocacy and communication to clients and those who need the services, employment opportunities, and more support services including counseling in personal finance.
To achieve its goals, HIP plans to raise money from donations and to seek grants, doubling its budget over four years.
HIP provides transitional housing to low-income working families and individuals facing homelessness, typically for about 12 to 24 months. HIP is the only provider of transitional housing in Princeton, offering temporary housing and support services to those on the verge of homelessness.
The organization, however, “is more than transitional housing,” said Lempert. “It’s wraparound services. A case worker will work with a client on what they want to accomplish, such as paying down debts, getting a degree. The overall goal is to get into affordable housing in Princeton.” The program for clients is one to two years long, aligning with the often two-year wait for housing, Lempert pointed out.
The group was started some 20 years ago at Trinity Church, she said. While it started as a faith-based organization, it evolved into a community nonprofit.
“It has grown significantly over the last several years,” said Lempert. Five years ago, the total rental assistance was $20,000. For the past two years it has been $500,000, after partnering with a community block grant. Some clients are referred by social services agencies; some through a general search of housing options.
According to HIP Executive Director Kathleen Gittleman, the Trenton-Princeton area is the fifth most segregated metro area by race or ethnicity in the country, and by income. Trenton’s median income is $30,000; Princeton’s is $130,000. “We look forward to the support from our longtime friends,” said Gittleman, “as well as generating support from new friends who have become increasingly aware of the necessity of mitigating the severe wealth and housing gap in this region.”
Lempert said the group has “learned a lot from our clients. We want to do a better job for supporters, change the system and make it work better.”
The group has found that more mental health services are needed, and that rents are exceedingly high. Collaboration between agencies has been working, such as the Princeton Housing Stability Coalition and Arm In Arm. “The idea behind the rental assistance program is to pool resources to stretch funding,” she said. “It’s easier for clients if the assistance came from one organization.”
The “ambitious” strategic plan was supported by a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation Bunbury Fund.
“We want Princeton to be a place where people can afford to live,” said Lempert. “The need grows every day. What we find with rental assistance because rents are so high, that more people are living paycheck to paycheck, and anything that happens that isn’t according to plan, like a car breakdown, or illness, has a ripple effect. These things are going to happen, and can cause a downward spiral.
“Our organization tried to provide a support structure before a potential downward spiral. Intervening in a stage in a family’s life can change the trajectory.”
For more information, visit housinginitiativesofprinceton.org.
HIP is one of the beneficiaries of a March 23 event at 6 p.m. at Nassau Presbyterian Church, when board member Matthew Desmond speaks on his book, Poverty, by America, written with Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor; and introduced by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Andrea Elliott. The event is co-presented by Labyrinth Books and Princeton Public Library. HIP and HomeFront will be beneficiaries of the book sale proceeds.
Desmond is professor of sociology at Princeton University and the author of four books including Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, and is the principal investigator of The Eviction Lab at Princeton. Taylor’s Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
This event is free but ticketed. One can reserve tickets at povertybyamerica.eventbrite.com, and order a copy of the book to picked up at the door. To order a book to be shipped, write to email@example.com.