Over 300 Return ‘Under One Roof’ to Further Efforts to HouseNJ
Housing champions honored and community development efforts celebrated at annual conference


Hundreds of community development leaders, housing advocates and policy makers convened in-person for the first time since the onset of the pandemic on Friday, October 21, to discuss investments, policies and best practices to help HouseNJ and strengthen NJ communities. Organized by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network), Under One Roof: The Network’s Annual Community Development Conference and Membership Meeting included topical workshops, awards for municipalities engaged in housing development, the presentation of the Community Development Champion Award to the Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and a lifetime achievement presentation to retired Senator Ronald L. Rice.     

In her acceptance of the 2022 Community Development Champion Award, Senate Majority Leader Ruiz thanked Under One Roof attendees for advocacy efforts that led to the passage of a bill she sponsored to enhance NJ’s lead poisoning prevention measures.  

“It takes a collective consciousness to make sure that we are focused on policy that protects every human being in the state of New Jersey,” said Ruiz. “I am in a debt of gratitude to all of you for your advocacy, your partnership, your power and for always remembering that without healthy communities, we are nowhere in the Garden State.”

Network President and Chief Executive Officer Staci Berger emphasized the message that housing is health and described the structural challenges NJ residents faced obtaining housing stability as a result of the pandemic.

"The pandemic accentuated the disparate health outcomes and the racial wealth gap, both of which are driven by the lack of affordable, safe places for Black and Brown residents to call home,” said Berger. “NJ's community development sector has worked tirelessly to strengthen our communities and remove barriers to the housing market so we can help HouseNJ, making our state a place where families can thrive.”

The Conference’s plenary discussion, Advancing Racial Equity Starts at Home: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Community Development Sector, explored the policies, programs and resources that community development corporations – especially BIPOC, small urban and women developers – can use to create affordable homes while overcoming institutional and structural barriers on the path to racial equity and housing justice. Panelists included NJ Economic Development Authority Chief Community Officer Tai Cooper, National Low Income Housing Coalition Senior Housing Advocacy Organizer Lindsay Duvall, Urban Institute Equity Scholar and Principal Research Associate Michael Neal, ESR Advisors Principal and Managing Partner Craig Sawyer. Incoming Network Board Vice Chair and Gateway Community Action Partnership Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Edward Bethea served as moderator.

In addition to honoring Senate Majority Leader Ruiz, the Network also presented Senator Ronald Rice with the 2022 Assemblyman Jerry Green Legacy Award in recognition of his role as longtime chair of the NJ Legislative Black Caucus and as one of NJ’s longest-serving state senators in NJ history. Senator Rice was honored for his tenacious leadership creating the Lead Hazard Control Fund and the State Rental Assistance Program. He also shepherded the Foreclosure Mediation Program, renter protections and a host of other housing programs.

HomeFront founder Connie Mercer was also honored as the 2022 Hall of Heroes inductee for her unwavering efforts to end homelessness over the last three decades. Mercer launched HomeFront to organize volunteers to deliver meals and clothing to homeless families living in motels along Route 1 in Mercer County. The organization has since grown to over 100 employees and over 3000 volunteers to comprehensively address the needs of NJ’s homeless.

Other honorees included:

  • The New Jersey Center for Nonprofits with the Exceptional Community Partner Award;
  • Lead-Free NJ with the Advocacy and Organizing Award;
  • The City of Burlington for its partnership with Habitat for Humanity of South Central NJ to revitalize the city’s New London District;
  • The City of Newark for its partnership with Urban League of Essex County for the development of new affordable homes in the Fairmount Heights neighborhood;
  • City of Bridgeton, for collaborating with Gateway Community Action Partnership to develop the RiverGrove Apartments, a 100 percent affordable rental community;
  • The City of Newark and the Newark Board of Education for its collaboration with Clinton Hill Community Action and La Casa de Don Pedro on the development of the Clinton Hill Early Learning Center;
  • Roxbury High School for its partnership with Morris Habitat for Humanity to build a single family home in Roxbury Township;
  • Triple C Housing for the development of ten brand new affordable homes in Middlesex and Ocean Counties through the support of the National Housing Trust Fund.

The event was sponsored by JP Morgan Chase, M&T Bank and Valley National Bank among others. Featured sessions included topics on healthy homes, tenant protections, art in community development, housing counseling, land acquisition, neighborhood revitalization, racial equity, and state and federal public policy. The full program for the event is available here.

About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 250 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communitiesFor more information on the Network, visit www.hcdnnj.org.