Let’s dispense with the “Who says you can’t go home?” quips. Jon Bon Jovi has never called Newark home, and chances are he never will. But that did not stop the pride of Sayreville from supporting 51 units of affordable housing in Newark’s North Ward.
Bon Jovi, 48, broke ground on the project in 2008 alongside Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Bon Jovi’s JBJ Soul Foundation teamed with HELP USA, a national organization helmed by Maria Cuomo Cole, to fund the $15 million building, which goes beyond helping low-income Newark residents; it also guarantees that fifteen units are set aside for HIV/AIDS patients. As such, it’s the first residence of its kind in New Jersey. The first residents began moving into the building in December.
“Our goal here was to build partnerships that, with the assistance of state government and HELP USA, would support the efforts and the promise of this community,” says Bon Jovi, whose foundation chipped in $1 million, and who also supported the cause through sales of a line of jackets and a fragrance he created with Cole’s husband, Kenneth Cole.
Why Newark? “The city had, for a long time, been written off,” Bon Jovi says. “I hadn’t been there in twenty years. Other than a good meal, I had no reason to go there. But people like Maria Cuomo Cole and Mayor Booker believed, and it’s that spirit that ensures this community could be reborn.”
Of course, his Jersey-guy persona was another factor. “I’m a part of New Jersey’s history, as is Newark and its residents. The collective we are only as strong as our weak.”
The apartments in the LEED-certified building feature amenities such as Energy Star appliances, Corian countertops, and hardwood cabinets. On-site resources such as homework labs, a computer training center, and an art and design studio are intended to empower the building’s tenants.
Newark is not known for its embrace of rock bands, which says something about Bon Jovi’s willingness to help a community that might not know him. But “whether they knew me or my music was not the point,” Bon Jovi says. “We were able to bring people together to make a difference in the lives of families and individuals who’ll call these residences home. Even if they aren’t singing my songs, I bet they’re singing.”