On Sept. 2, 2008, the lead singer and founding member of the eponymous rock band was back in Newark, shovel in hand, to turn first dirt on the Newark Genesis Apartments, 51 units of housing and support services for low-income and special-needs families that his philanthropic organization, the Philadelphia Soul Charitable Foundation, is helping to build in the city’s North Ward. The mission of the public/private partnership of the city, the State of New Jersey and New York City-based developer HELP USA, a national not-for-profit organization founded by Andrew Cuomo in 1986, is to help formerly homeless adults and low-income families become and remain self-reliant.
The project is the first residential facility in New Jersey to provide permanent housing that is fully integrated with the services of a post- acute-care AIDS facility, setting aside 25 percent of the units for residents living with HIV/AIDS. Newark Genesis also incorporates a number of environmentally responsible elements, including a green roof that makes the four-story building eligible for LEED certification.
When the members of the band decided to open their tour in Newark, Bon Jovi said it was with the idea of giving something substantial back to the community. That concert at the Prudential Center brought 150,000 people to Newark who might not otherwise go there, and allowed the city to show off to attendees its top-notch transportation system, restaurants and hotels.
“It also afforded Jon the opportunity to talk about the housing issues that affect residents of Newark – the need for rental housing for low- income and special-needs families currently residing in substandard housing, and for homeless families presently in transitional housing facilities throughout the city,” said Mimi Box, director of the Soul Foundation, created to tackle issues that force families and individuals into economic despair, through programs and partnerships that would bring about positive change in the lives of others.
It was then that Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Maria Cuomo-Cole, Chairman of HELP USA, a nationally recognized provider of housing and a broad range of service programs that meet the needs of a local community, found the right project for the North Ward area.
Bon Jovi became involved with HELP USA in fall of 2006, when he collaborated with Kenneth Cole, fashion designer and Cuomo-Cole’s husband, on a fundraising effort they called R.S.V.P to HELP, which included sales of limited edition outerwear and a holiday gala event to raise awareness and support for homelessness, donating net proceeds to HELP USA and the Philadelphia Soul Foundation, which then made a private investment in around three acres of land in Newark’s North Ward.
“Jon is a tremendous partner and force of this project and his leadership and commitment to raising funds certainly enabled the process,” said Cuomo-Cole of Bon Jovi’s involvement and his foundation’s $1 million contribution to the development effort that already has benefited the local community. Thanks to the efforts of the Booker administration and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, the mostly single-family neighborhood is experiencing renewal. “Families are now staying to raise their children in this community where there are tremendous services dedicated to local residents,” said Cuomo-Cole.
Bon Jovi quotes the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” And that philosophy has become the guiding principal of the four elements The Soul Foundation looks for in the projects it chooses to support: A housing component; support services that enable residents to attain home ownership or transition to independent living; a green component and a volunteer component, or mentoring opportunity that encourages clients to become vested in their community.
In 1986, HELP USA created the HELP model that would become a national congressional model for housing service delivery for homeless families and evolved that concept in 1992 to include Genesis Home, permanent housing for the formerly homeless. HELP USA has built a total of 29 transitional and permanent housing communities across the country using innovative financing structures, including low-income housing tax credits.
“Part of our strategy is to partner with the most formidable partner that serves the special population that we are going to serve. In Philly, at the HELP Philadelphia transitional housing site, it was mental health provider Philadelphia Health Management Corporation and in Newark, it’s a group called Broadway House. They run a brilliant facility, which provides medical services and health services for people with HIV/AIDS, and fifteen of the units at Newark Genesis will be allocated for their clients, who will move from Broadway House to our residence,” said Cuomo-Cole.
Other resident services will include a job development effort, a mentoring program for youth and graphic arts training curriculum. In addition to the project’s social amenities is its eco-friendliness.
Newark Genesis will exceed the standards of two green building programs that are part of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s (NJHMFA) low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) green initiative. They include the Energy Star program, a requirement for many HMFA-funded developments, and the state’s Green Future program, which adds a number of requirements like building durability, resource efficiency, indoor air quality to the former program.
“We’ve tried to incorporate as many green elements as possible and that was a challenge for us working in a state with new guidelines. We implemented all their required and requested green elements and we’ve also invested in a green roof,” said Cuomo-Cole.
HELP USA also worked with George Marks of Kramer + Marks Architects to incorporate some green areas and some recreational quiet garden space, she said.
Through the efforts of Newark’s economic development department’s housing and real estate division, Newark will provide planning and development support, including $1.4 million of gap financing available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Home Investment Partnership Program, to support the development of new affordable housing opportunities for Newark’s low- and moderate-income residents. And, with successful advocacy from Booker and his housing and real estate division, the project also received critical financing and planning support from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs, the NJHMFA and the Federal Home Loan Bank.
The Newark Genesis Apartments, a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units, is expected to be ready for occupancy in November.
Although Bon Jovi has worked on behalf of a number of charitable organizations, the Special Olympics, the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity among them, the plight of the homeless is at the heart of his charitable efforts.
“There are so many great causes to which one can choose to direct philanthropic efforts. But homeless prevention and affordable housing opportunities just seemed to us to be one that we could resolve,” said Box.
“President Obama put forth a challenge for every American to answer the call and ‘seize gladly’ the opportunity to make a difference, and this is one way we have chosen to give back.” said Bon Jovi, who named his charitable organization after the Philadelphia Soul, the arena football team he has co-owned with partner Craig A. Spencer since 2004. The Soul was conceived as a new model of sports philanthropy that would utilize the entire Soul organization as agents of good in the community, with charity as its cornerstone.
Everything the Soul does includes an element of giving and all members of the organization, even the fans, are encouraged to do their part to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. “If I need members of the Soul Organization to participate in a volunteer build opportunity, or if the team asks them to visit a school or community group, they are right there,” said Box.
Birthing a charity
From the time the Souls were first announced as a team, to their first home game played in January 2004, the organization raised around $200,000 for various local charities, and Bon Jovi and Spencer officially launched the Foundation two years later. Its first undertaking was with Project HOME in Philadelphia, involving the renovation of 15 historically significant row houses on a rundown block in North Philadelphia for low-income, first-time homeowners.
“Watching and following the progress of those families in their quest to achieve home-ownership was very rewarding,” said Bon Jovi. “It is the ongoing hard work and commitment these families make to their neighborhood that will return them to a vibrant community with hope and opportunity.”
Since then, the Foundation has raised funds for projects that will provide 156 units of housing with services to individuals and families in cities across the country.
“In today’s economy, we would like to utilize Jon’s stature in the community to bring attention to the plight of the homeless and garner corporate support, like we have done with Saturn, ICAP, Coty and many other corporate donors and individuals,” said Box.
The Foundation is wrapping up a project in the Morningside community of Detroit and most recently provided gap funding to construct two eight-unit apartment buildings and a community center with HomeAid Atlanta, a nonprofit organization working with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. The project, Phoenix Pass, will provide transitional housing to temporarily homeless families. The first phase of construction will provide 48 beds in the Conyers-Rockdale County community.
“What we love about the HomeAid model is that they serve as the liaison between the service provider, in this case Rockdale Emergency Relief (RER), and the builders and other members of the home-builders industry they have recruited to donate construction services and materials to the project. This story has even greater potency when you consider today’s economy. Still, we have home-builders stepping up to give back to those in greater need in their community,” said Box.
At Phoenix Pass, in addition to fully furnished living space, RER will provide case management, a mentor-ship program, life skills classes, employment assistance and aftercare programs to help homeless families get back on their feet.
“Like Newark Genesis and all projects the Soul Foundation is involved with, Phoenix Pass is a program that provides aid that is self- sustaining and heavily laden with green building components,” said Box.
Meanwhile, the entire Arena Football League fell victim to the economic downturn, announcing late last year that it would suspend operations to spend the 2009 season revamping its economic model. But the Soul Foundation, although bearing the same name as the team, is a separate entity, structured as a 501(c)(3) organization.
“We plan to continue leveraging our resources and building partnerships that change the lives of people one soul at a time,” said Box.