For Ed Truscelli, community and social activism start at home — literally.
Truscelli is the executive director of Princeton Community Housing (PCH) and is at the helm of implementing initiatives to assist people in securing affordable housing in the expensive community of Princeton. He says the task is difficult but not impossible. “There is a misconception that there is no such thing as affordable living in Princeton,” he says. “However, the city has been at the forefront of providing a range of housing opportunities, even before rules were in place obligating municipalities like Princeton to provide affordable housing.”
Truscelli will be a speaker at the Princeton Public Library on Monday, November 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. He will be co-hosting the event with Maureen Fullaway, affordable housing manager for the municipality of Princeton. The event is free and will present a short history of affordable housing in Princeton, eligibility guidelines, and how to navigate the application process. For more information, visit www.princetonlibrary.org or call 609-924-9529.
Truscelli is an architect by trade and a community builder of sorts. He has sat at the helm of PCH since 2012, while serving as a managing member of Milestone Professional Consulting Services, an architectural design and project management firm in Pennington. He has also done stints at various not-for-profits, social service agencies, and resource centers across the state.
Truscelli, a New Jersey native, is at the forefront of community activism. “I believe in building consensus in the course of building housing opportunities,” he says. “I hope my training as an architect and my ability to listen carefully will enable me to find that balance.” Truscelli has a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and an undergraduate degree from Columbia University in New York.
Truscelli credits his parents, now deceased, with instilling his tendency to be outspoken on behalf of others. “I realize more than ever that their values are the absolute motivation for what I do,” he says. “Their emphasis on fairness and helping those who need help were frequent examples for me.”
“I trust that people realize that somewhere in their lives, they have been provided with an important opportunity — by a family member, friend, colleague that has enabled them to move forward.” In his ongoing efforts to move a community forward and provide residents with accurate information, Truscelli says dismissing misconceptions about issues related to affordable housing is a personal and professional priority.
For example, there is a difference between “transitional housing” and “affordable housing,” though the two phrases are frequently used interchangeably. Truscelli says transitional housing is usually in reference to someone facing an immediate or crisis situation. “Transitional housing is available for households facing homelessness and typically last for about 12 to 24 months,” he says. “This type of housing program also includes support services such as employment and credit counseling.”
Truscelli says affordable housing is the rental or sale of housing for very low, low, or moderate income households. “Households applying for or living in affordable housing are often asset limited, income constrained, and employed,” he says.
An acronym for families in this situation is ALICE. Per government guidelines, generally no more than 30 percent of household income should be spent on housing. Households that spend more than one-third of family income on housing expenses are cost-burdened and don’t have available funds for basic necessities such as food, medicine, transportation, and clothing.
To that end, there continues to be a perception that low-cost or moderate-income living in historic communities like Princeton is all but non-existent. But Truscelli contends that Princeton has been a leader among local and state municipalities in providing a range of substantive housing opportunities. “About 10 percent of housing in the city is identified as rental or for sale affordable housing,” he says.
“More affordable homes are needed for those with asset limited and constrained incomes,” he adds.
Truscelli says there are about 1,800 households on PCH’s waiting list for affordable housing units in Princeton. The current wait time for a one-bedroom apartment is between 12 and 14 months. Many of the people on the PCH wait list include teachers, health aides, retail employees, food service, maintenance workers, and retirees.
Truscelli says government subsidized communities are often stigmatized — including those within the Princeton community at large. He says while most affordable housing units are virtually indistinguishable in appearance from mid-range and other market rental properties, most Princetonians know the specific locations of the affordable housing units.
“Princeton is generally a welcoming community,” he says. “However, there are some who do not regard the households living in affordable homes as their neighbors,” he says. Truscelli adds — despite the fact that these marginalized households call Princeton home, send their children to the same schools, and support the community — some Princetonians are averse to increasing affordable housing options.
On a brighter note, the municipality recently approved plans for 65 new affordable rental homes at a property at the intersection of Mt. Lucas and Herrontown roads. And a total of 132 affordable rental apartments in central Princeton have come online in the past few years.
Finally, Truscelli says despite Princeton Community Housing hitting a 50-year celebratory milestone in 2017, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to providing affordable housing. “I want my message to be clear to everyone, that the people who call affordable housing their home are our neighbors,” he says. “Providing housing opportunities helps people and is also an essential feature of a welcoming, diverse, and successful community.”