All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Carla Lerman
INTERVIEWER: June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    June 17, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (10/1985)

Previous Pages

(N) Well yes. This was actually when the children were, it was before high school. It was I think in elementary school, it was '72.

(I) Before you went to England?

(N) Yes. And I had been so involved in P.T.A. and we were always moaning and groaning about things we'd like to do differently and so some of my friends said, why don't I run. They are always saying this to each other so it was the sort of usual conversation. Why don't you run for the board? Why don't you run for the board? So I, in a moment of weakness and mild insanity said yes. So we put together a lot of people who, some of whom had been in Mel Hauser's campaign, some of whom were people who were involved in the Peace Center. A lot of people from Whittier School who had been concerned about some of the same things that I was concerned about.

(I) What were your issues at that time, do you recall?

(N) I don't know. At the time they seemed the most important things in the world. I think it was still around this whole question of the equality of education of the black and white kids in the schools and seeing to it that we were really vigilant about this. And seeing to it that there be an assumption that all kids can learn. (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) One of the things that had bothered me, concerned me, what that I sensed that there was a different expectation for the, on the part of the teachers, for the black kids than for the white and I wanted to make sure that the same type of approach was used for all the children so there was an assumption that all of you are going to learn; all of you are smart enough to learn in this classroom and you know, you are all going to learn, and there would be whatever assistance was necessary to make this possible. I was also concerned that particular year there had been, the taxes had been increasing and I had felt that there were people in Teaneck who really maybe couldn't afford to pay increasingly higher taxes. We had had some very bad experiences with referenda and the board

(I) Well which referenda are you referring to?

(N) Just in general in town. Various referenda had been defeated. I think this may have been the swimming pool referenda

(I) And the building programs.

(N) The building programs too were defeated.

(I) But the budgets themselves were not defeated.

(N) I don't recall whether everyone was defeated. I just don't remember. But I know that there was a fear that if we had a referendum on capital improvements, it would be defeated. Not new schools but capital improvements that were needed. And my feeling was that if it was well enough explained that for instance I think Longfellow needed a new roof. I mean there were basic repairs that had to be done. They wanted to put, the present board wanted to put them in the operating budget and therefore would have resulted in a tax increase and I felt that that could be handled by a series of small bond issues, they could have taken care of the same thing. What the result of this, I mean which is just a different policy approach, the result of it is that the budget that was put forth by the existing board at that time was to include them in the operating budget and so I had to take the very surprising to many of my friends position of opposing the budget because I was not approving of this and I brought out, I looked up census data and I brought up how many people in Teaneck were low income, there were a lot of elderly people as there still are, you know, plus there were other people who were not high income, you know, the whole Glenwood area and parts of the northeast and that the tax increase would be more of a problem for them than for other people and people argued and challenged there are no low income people. You wouldn't believe the arguments, people would call me up at home and say, how can you think this? People who were generally on the same side on school issues. How can you think this, how can you say this, how can you do this? There aren't people like this in Teaneck. There aren't people who can't afford a tax increase. Ironically none of us, I mean I was running as an independent, a couple of other people were running as independents. I think there must have been eight or nine at least people running for the board that year. All of the so called liberals were defeated and a conservative slate was elected and the irony is that that's what they went ahead and did was have a series of small bond issues which did get passed. Of course it was the conservatives who generally opposed those things and they were putting them forward now so they weren't getting the opposition and that's what did happen and they ended up putting the new roof on Longfellow and the new windows and the leaky places in Whittier. Whatever things had to be done that went on over the next few years. But the campaign taught me a lot. It was an interesting experience. I met a lot of terrific people, people who just amazed me that they were willing to really get out and work to see me elected. I mean you know it is just an amazing feeling. It makes you realize how important the whole notion of being elected and running elections and trying to explain your views to people. Trying to get the message across that you are trying to say and then see if people agree with you. And they have a chance to go and vote for you or vote against you.

(I) After your experience with the school board, or was this before and during, when you were so active in the Peace Center too?

(N) Oh I think it was probably, the Peace Center started probably around 1970 or so and I was involved with that just in terms of trying to help out with various activities that were done. Probably as much for raising money which then permitted other things to be done. There was a lot of draft counseling going on, a lot of educational material. It was located on, there had been a group that was concerned about the war in Vietnam and felt that we should not be there but then I think it must have been around 1970 when they got enough money together to rent a storefront on Cedar Lane. Up near the bridge over the railroad tracks. Above Butterflake, east of Butterflake, east of that whole block. And it was a little storefront, it did a lot of educational work, provided a lot of materials, did a lot of draft counseling right there. The people who were considering not registering and resisting the draft, had a lot of volunteers that came in and operated it, sold little Peace Pins and buttons and things like that, posters, the usual king of thing. Provided a focus and some direction for people. There were not just Teaneck people. There were a lot of people from Ridgewood, a number of people from Fair Lawn, people from Leonia, Tenafly, really from all over. It at least gave some feeling that there was a center, a focus for some of the activities that people felt concerned about. Helped when there was going to be a march, helped get people to go out and march, provided materials for the schools that were interested. There were a lot of teachers who had come there that wanted materials to explain what was happening in Viet Nam. Who is Ho Chi Minh? Who were the north Vietnamese? Who were the south Vietnamese? What are the issues? A lot of teachers surprisingly a lot of teachers, not just from Teaneck but from other towns too would come there, call up and ask for materials. And we had a lot of educational materials that were just a lot of stuff that the American Friends Service Committee put out explaining the issues pretty well, explained what the sides were. And that went on until I guess until about the time the war ended or shortly before that. That was a good group of people too. I met a lot of very good people, very fine concerned,

(I) The same faces and many of the same organizations?

(N) To a certain extent, yeah. There were some, I mean a lot of the Peace Center people then formed that Reformed Democratic Group which escapes me now completely. I remember it was about the time

(I) (Inaudible) Democrats?

(N) No, no. Something that was on a much broader whole national level. A guy from Long Island was heading it up. The man who got shot last year, a few years ago. Terrible, very sad. You'd remember his name if I said it. Anyway, it was a reformed Democratic movement that was trying to bring together some of the concerns of the peace movement and other people who felt that the 60s had had some good things in terms of the Johnson programs, the domestic programs, poverty programs.

(I) Were you active in local politics outside of the school board?

(N) Not really, not involved because Teaneck didn't have partisan politics for its local elections. We were involved in the campaign that Frank Burr and Frank Hall were in and but other that,  I wasn't very much involved.  A little bit. When I lived on Oakdene Avenue, when I lived on the south side that was back when the war was just starting. Johnson was president. I ran for Democratic Committeewoman on a Peace platform. It has to be one of the funniest things because the district was a very conservative district even the democrats in that district were very conservative and interestingly I lost but I lost by seven votes. We did a lot of door-to-door campaigning for committeewoman. When I think back on it it is very funny but we really felt that the conservatives, that Johnson and the Democratic leadership would be noticing if suddenly a lot of peace candidates won committee positions all over the country and we thought it was worthwhile trying. After that, I don't think, frankly I don't think I knew what a Democratic committee woman would have done. I mean I had no notion of local politics at all. And after that I really was not particularly involved. I never ran for any partisan office again and I was not involved with the county Democrats or any of that thing.

(I) You had already begun, you were working. You had already begun to go back to work when the children were small.

(N) Yes, I was in city planning and I was able to stay as a consultant doing freelance work all the time. I mean I worked full time until Nina was born and then was able to continue working part time through all those years which was very good. It was good for me and it was good for the family.

(I) What kind of work did this actually involve?

(N) It involved working on master plans, downtown studies, economic studies, urban renewal, things like that but not locally. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Bridgeport, Connecticut and Meridan, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Walthan, Polyoak, places like that, Albany, New York. I did a number of various model cities type things. It was all during that period all of those programs. So that was very good because I was able to keep involved.

(I) Then you went back to work full time after that?

(N) Then we went to England for a year. Paul had a sabbatical and that was the year of 74/75 and had an absolutely marvelous year. It was a vacation in which everybody should have.

(I) The children must have went to school there?

(N) Oh yes. They went to the local school which was an excellent experience. They went to the local comprehensive school, not a private school, not the American school. And they were the only Americans in that school. Terrific experience for everybody, just really great fun and wonderful year off for the adults.

(I) Were you in London?

(N) Yes.  We rented a house that we just found out about quite accidentally. We were very lucky. It was a furnished house. And so it worked out very, very well. And then we came back, I went back to doing freelance work immediately. By then the community development program had started, another federal program. The program actually started in 74 when we were away. When we were away was when Nixon resigned and it was televised of course by satellite. It was two o'clock in the morning in England and we got the kids up because we felt that was something they should witness and experience an extraordinary event in American history. But I went to work and then in the spring of the next year, I guess 76, I went to work full time, regular full time work, five day a week job.

(I) And what you are involved in now is the housing.

(N) Right. My first job full time there in 76 was to start and direct the first Home Improvement Program there in the county that was funded with Community Development money and then that was to help low income homeowners correct defects, fix up their houses. And then from there I went to the Housing Authority and became the executive director in 77.

(1) And what have you accomplished with respect to Teaneck?

(N) Well in Teaneck, Teaneck is a member of the Authority and there are 45 towns that belong to it and in Teaneck we have built four of our affordable house condominiums which are particularly meant for people who earn, well at that time it was about $21,000 or below.

(I) And where are they located?

(N) They are located on Thomas and Terhune streets down near Bogota, sort of the extension of Chestnut and Front Streets, down in that direction and we are about to start six more units on Linden just on the border of Bogota and Teaneck. Teaneck has been receptive to this and I am delighted that I read in the paper that Councilman Frank Hall has said he feels that the town should deed property or lease it on a long term lease, like a 99 year lease, and let us build more of these affordable units. We give a preference to Teaneck residents or people who work in Teaneck so that it helps the people right here in the town.

(I) How did you get the land for these units that you've already built? Is that township land?

(N) The ones we've done so far are township owned land. We paid the town the full appraisal value, full market value.

(I) And where do you get your money from?

(N) We get our money from Community Development Block Grants. The federal money comes through HUD to the county. Then the county gives it to us. 

(I) Are these grants still as liberal as they were some years ago?

(N) No, we are not getting as much money as we did. The Housing Authority is not getting quite as much money and just in general, housing programs are down tremendously. I mean what used to be possible three or four years ago is just impossible now.

(I) Now if you build these houses for low income, they

(N) Well they are sort of low/moderate because you have to qualify. In other words, they are sale units. You have to qualify for a mortgage, you have to have a job that will qualify you with a bank for a mortgage.

(I) Do you get your money back?

(N) No, what we put into it, we put in the value of the land and in some cases, some of the site work, putting in the sewer line and things like that. The purchasers pay for the whole cost of the construction of the house, the actual cost of the sticks and mortar. And when they sell it, they cannot make a killing on it. They can only make what the increase in the consumer price index has been in that period of time. So that it is always going to be affordable to somebody in the same category of income.

(I) Well now, you must have screened these applications. There must have been some procedure. Now on a resale of this, is the town or the Housing Authority rather, still involved in this?

(N) Yes, we have part of their deed. They have to offer it to us first. We have a 90 day option to find a purchaser and we will find a purchaser in the same way we found the first purchasers. You know, we contact all of the municipal employees organizations, the unions, the teachers organizations, we put notices in the library and the municipal building and also advertise in the local papers and we also advertise in THE RECORD.

(I) How many responses did you get? 

(N) Oh we get for the six in Teaneck that haven't even started construction yet, we've gotten well over a hundred applications. Some of those, since we had thought we were going to start and there was a delay with some problems of title in Teaneck and so they couldn't sell us the property as soon as they thought, so we have people from a year ago and we've written them now and said if you are still interested and still qualify, you can do it and we've gotten back on those six units a year later, we've gotten back 50 or 60 responses of people who say, yes, we are still interested.

(I) The town itself doesn't have anything to do with this once you have. .

(N) That's right. We explain the program to them and we go through all the same things any developer would. We've just gotten approval from the Planning Board on the site plans and we go through all the same things, the construction official would have to approve everything and have all the same permits and people pay the full taxes, normal property taxes.

(I) How big are these units?

(N) They are three bedrooms, one and a half baths, about 1,300 square feet, which are not big but you can't have something, we sell them between $40 and $45,000 and at that price, you can't have huge bathrooms and sunken bathtubs. But we have a very energy efficient, very attractive and very comfortable little house.

(I) Does the Housing Authority design them?

(N) Yes, we have had an architect who has designed them and we are using, we've used a similar design on a number, we've built them in a number of places. In Leonia we have ten that are just being completed as a matter of fact. Next week, we will be having closings. Then we have a number in Ridgewood, we have eight in Ridgewood and four in Ridgefield Park, six in Hackensack, a couple in Lodi. We've built them allover, wherever we can get property.

(I) Every town is receptive to this?

(N) Almost. We've had an experience in Rivervale where the crowds came out and felt this would really be a bad thing for their property values. That's happened. Interesting that happened in Ridgefield which., although it is not a town you think of as an affluent town, has such a low tax rate because of the Public Service plant that the property values in Ridgefield are much higher than Teaneck or much higher than most of the towns in the county. Absolutely totally disproportionate because of the tax rate. I mean on a $150,000 or $200,000 house, you might pay $300 or $400 taxes. So that was a town that was not receptive. They felt we would lower their property values. The mayor and council were; the neighbors were not.

(I) Is Teaneck one of the highest tax towns in the county?

(N) One of the highest, yes. I am not sure whether it is the highest or second or third but it is among the very highest.

(I) Well you would be aware of values. For instance, of the same house in Teaneck and Ridgewood perhaps or Tenafly. How do they compare?

(N) Well what's interesting, what's happened in the last year to two years is that Teaneck which used to be say four or five years ago, after house prices had begun to go crazy, Teaneck you could still buy a house at something approaching reasonable and many people bought here because they recognized that. When we sold our house on Maitland Avenue, we moved two blocks away in Teaneck, but the people we sold to said that they had looked at many many houses in other towns and they hadn't seen anything like this for the money and they bought it. They said this is just worth so much more than what we have seen in other houses, other towns, for much more. What's happened in Teaneck in the last year or two is that the prices have just gone right off the wall and now there are houses selling, in that same neighborhood, right down the street from that Maitland Avenue house a little tiny house, one of the smallest houses on the block was just on the market for $165,000 and was sold very quickly. This is insane. It is just absolutely ridiculous. But my feeling is that house prices in Teaneck have really jumped up and they are not out of line now. They are right in there with the rest of them. I mean it is really outrageous. So that the family that could only afford $45,000 house not only can't buy in Teaneck, they probably can't buy anywhere in Bergen County.

(I) Can they buy outside of Bergen County?

(N) Yes, they can still get houses that are reasonable if you go down to Ocean County, some parts of Mammouth County, out in Sussex County, out in Warren County. You have to drive a long way. But people do. People drive to Ocean County from Bergen County. I saw a sign on the new Mack Center in Paramus in the Mack office building, those very elegant office buildings out by A&S, a sign in the elevator there that said, Car Pool for Ocean County and it said what floor of the office building to go to so people are doing it.

(I) Have we pretty much covered all of your activities in Teaneck?

(N) I think so. I haven't, oh I mean I was very active in the League for a while. I have been a commissioner of the Redevelopment Agency for about nine years. That's another,

(I) Well, would you like to elaborate on that a little bit?

(N) The Teaneck Redevelopment Agency is responsible for the redevelopment of about a 50 acre tract in, at the intersection of 80 and 95. Route 80 and Route 95. And when I came back from living in England, the council had changed and there had been a movement against high-rise buildings which had been part of the first plan and there was a council election based on that and the council won. It was opposed to high-rise and they appointed as the terms came up on the Redevelopment Agency, appointed new commissioners who would be ones they felt would represent more their point of view. Actually I had not opposed the high-rise, publicly I had not opposed the high-rise but I had a planning background and they felt that for that reason they would like to appoint me I guess to the Agency and actually I, excuse me, it wasn't the council that appointed me. It was the governor. It was a governor's appointment which is a political appointment. Now you said I had been active, I  hadn't been active in the democratic politics and the people who interviewed me, most of them I didn't know. They were people in Teaneck politics but the way those governor's appointments, every agency has one governor's appointment. Every agency in the state. Every Redevelopment or Housing Authority or anything like that and what they do is they take the local suggestions generally speaking. So they interviewed, they did it fairly openly, they interviewed a number of people but because of my background, I had dealt with redevelopment and urban renewal myself as a professional so they appointed me and I've been on that ever since.

(I) Your professional opinion now. Do you feel that Glenpointe is a good development?

(N) Yeah. I think it has worked out very, very well. I think better than anyone had thought it would. I think there have been some problems with the marketing and with the type of condominiums that were built. I think they were, as many people have said, they were too expensive. Many Teaneck people who would have been interested in living there and couldn't because there really, they were really beyond the level of Teaneck people. But I think the hotel has worked out fairly, I think the office building. . I think the architecture has been very attractive and now there is going to be some kind of change in terms of new condominiums and I think it will end up being completed successfully. But my feeling is that what it there now and when you hear the people outside of Teaneck talk about it, it is really thought of very, very highly and really talked about as a beautiful project. I don't think it has any negative effect on Teaneck partly because it is on the edge of Teaneck. Almost out there in the Meadowlands so that it is not like bringing something like that into the middle of town.  I think we should have more concerns about what is going to happen on Teaneck Road, not Teaneck Road, Route 4 with office buildings trying to be built. Once Route 4 in Teaneck get lined with office buildings, I think we will have much more serious problems. And my latest interest really is the North Teaneck Road Development Corp. and the council named me to, as a trustee on that.

(I) They just recently named new chairpersons of that.

(N) We hired an executive director. That's a staff person working for a board. There was a group that the council appointed to be the first trustees and we are incorporated as a not for profit corporation and we hired Rori Kanter and Jeanne Cole to be co-executive directors and I think that is going to work out very well. They know the town well, they have a lot of ideas, they are very creative. I think it is going to be a very good thing. And I think that whole concept of doing something for North Teaneck Road is very exciting so I am really interested in that. I enjoy that.

(I) Now, did we forget anything else?

(N) Well. just another little plug I'd like to get in for the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center that is being started and it is being opened actually officially in a couple of days in Holy Name Hospital. I am on the board of that center and it is going to be the first center like this in the state of New Jersey. And we think it is a plus for Teaneck. The organization is broader than Teaneck. It is a northern Passaic organization. But

(I) That would be diagnosis as well as . .

(N) It will be complete care. Diagnosis, treatment, physical therapy if that is called for right there in the hospital. There will be a neurologist one day a week and then more as we build up. Counseling, education, peer group activities. One of the most important things with MS is the education and counseling that you can give to the patient and their family so this will be a real center for that too. And we think this is a tremendous plus for Teaneck. It really is one more thing that we think is a good thing for the town.

(I) How can you manage all of these activities?

(N) Some times it gets busy. This is the time I used to spend on P.T.A.

(I) Well you seem to have managed very well.

(N) Well if we are going to stay in Teaneck, every time we start to think about moving, we say we really like it here, we love our house, why move?

(I) You remodeled it completely when you moved here?

(N) We bought an old house, right. Seven years ago we bought it and did a lot of gutting inside. It was one of the very early houses in Teaneck, 1913, and we did a lot of work in it and love it now. We are emply nesters and we just rattle around and we just love it. Love having it when the kids can all bring their friends in and you have a mob of kids for Thanksgiving.

(I) Well, thank you very much.

(N) You are very welcome. It is fun talking about the old days. You forget all those things and they come back.

(I) Is there anything else now before we finish. You didn't remember anything else?

(N) I'll remember something on the way home but no, that's fine.

(I) Well, thanks again. (END OF TAPE)

 

Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page