Dynamic Duos: Solving Big Problems with Creative Government Partnerships

Dynamic Duos: Solving Big Problems with Creative Government Partnerships

Session Summary

Professionals from across New Jersey came to New Jersey Future’s Redevelopment Forum to understand how their everyday work can tackle big problems. For issues such as homelessness, pollution and transportation inequity, the solution often lies in collaboration.

Sean Agid of Corvias, Andy Kricun, Senior Advisor at Moonshot Missions and Senior Fellow for the US Water Alliance, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) Chief of Staff Katie Brennan, and Cross County Connection TMA Executive Director Ronda Urkowitz, outlined real examples of when governments link up with private agencies to benefit vulnerable populations.

Stormwater Solutions

In New Jersey, stormwater pollution makes up 60 percent of water pollution. It represents an environmental challenge, a burden on budgets, and it impedes local development and economic growth.

In communities such as the City of Chester, PA, economic distress makes an investment in tackling this type of pollution unpopular, as the city is working with a $50 million total city budget, inclusive of police and fire. That’s where Corvias came in with a community partnership.

Corvias provided the working capital to establish partnerships and developed a funding mechanism, according to Agid. More than $1 million in grants were secured to establish a stormwater utility fee, more than 400 projects were analyzed and prioritized and 11 outreach meetings were held in each ward of the city. The city is not responsible for any payments until the infrastructure is implemented and certified, and even then payment will be through a low-interest loan.

“Green and gray stormwater projects are underway which will beautify the city,” Agid said.

700 of 17,000 catch basins were cleaned and assessed within the first six months, 12,000 gallons of standing water and 42,000 gallons of debris were removed.

In Camden, NJ, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) addresses stormwater and youth employment together in an innovative partnership called PowerCorps. PowerCorps Camden is an AmeriCorps program that aims to increase the economic opportunity of Camden youth through job training and readiness surrounding green infrastructure, Kricun explained. Youth program participants are educated on the importance of stormwater management through green infrastructure, and are trained on how to maintain installations, including rain gardens, city and county parks, vacant lots, and stormwater inlets. “Through this partnership, PowerCorps members get meaningful job experience, while also having a real and lasting impact on the City”, Kricun said.

Housing as Healthcare

Housing makes a significant difference in healthcare outcomes, and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s Housing First pilot with hospitals in the state is a way to make a change in the lives of frequent Emergency Room patients. NJHMFA can be thought of as a “mission-driven bank,” said Brennan. The agency provides funding for affordable homeownership and rental housing opportunities across the state, and in the Housing First pilot, it partnered with hospitals to build nearby housing with set-asides for frequent patients.

After NJHMFA’s board approved a $12 million investment and sent letters of interest in 2018, the agency got responses from eight geographically diverse hospitals, and moved forward with four to five projects in Paterson, Newark and Camden, with the first projects receiving Declarations of Intent in July 2019. “We had to learn one another’s language,” Brennan said. “We knew this wasn’t going to be one-size-fits all and every single one was going to be different.” Sample project financing and other details can be found in Brennan’s presentation.

But past data shows that this effort is worth it for the outcomes. The Greater Trenton Housing First program cited a 78% reduction in ER and inpatient costs for individuals housed through the program, for example, reducing annual individual costs from $25K to $5K per year.

The future of NJHMFA’s work includes thinking beyond one-off developments and ensuring the neighborhoods they are placed in are not left behind. The agency plans an expansion to fund rehabilitation efforts in neighborhoods surrounding hospitals through partnerships with on-the-ground NGOs and CDCs, as well as funding fit-ups of first floors in new developments for medical facilities to serve local communities.

Closing a Transit Gap
Ronda Urkowitz

Ronda Urkowitz, Executive Director, Cross County Connection TMA

The South Jersey area served by Cross County Connection TMA is rural and suburban, with a low population density, so obtaining public transit is a particular challenge. Urkowitz spoke of Amazon fulfillment center workers who can’t get to their jobs because existing transit doesn’t operate reliably on the weekend, or during second and third shifts. Access to reliable transit is essential to addressing poverty, health, education and other needs, she explained.

South Jersey Shuttles Community Shuttles, funded by a partnership between the Pascale Sykes Foundation and New Jersey Transit, are the solution. They are fixed route, ADA-compliant shuttles with designated stops, and they connect to existing rail service.

“We are definitely serving the transit-dependent,” Urkowitz said. Fifty-six percent have no access to a vehicle and 25 percent transfer to or from NJTransit.

Because of the partnership, the shuttles, which provide vital connection to jobs, medical appointments and even the Community Food Bank of NJ, are 100 percent grant funded. NJTransit pays for operating expenses only, and their grants require a 50 percent match, which is provided by the Pascale Sykes Foundation, an organization with a vision of “a world where all low-income families can thrive.” As a direct result of this partnership, ridership has increased over 160 percent in 5 years, the formerly unemployed are now employed, and more people are accessing social services.

Cross County Connection is on its own mission now—to make sure the shuttles stay funded. Help from the Pascale Sykes Foundation is sunsetting in 2022, but the NJTransit funding still needs to be matched. In preparation for this hurdle, the TMA is working toward continued increased ridership to show the persistent need for the service, improving support from local, county and state government and engaging the healthcare community.

Feedback from users will also help tell the story of how the shuttle sustains lives. As Jerome, a Rt 54.40 passenger interviewed for the Tell Us Your Story campaign said, “It would be like an eclipse, a rough change without the shuttle.”

This summary was written by Andrea Crowley-Hughes.