Pandemic be damned. City of Newark moves forward to restore a deteriorating neighborhood with a history of high rate foreclosures and many “underwater” properties.
Vacant lots alongside boarded up homes and commercial spaces have been the cityscape of the West Ward section of Newark, New Jersey for decades. Now efforts to “redevelop neighborhoods that the downtown developers ignore,” focus on changing the corridors of an important part of the city, said Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka.
According to Allison Ladd, Deputy Mayor and Director of Housing and Economic Development, Baraka chose the ward “because of its troubled past” that left it a blighted district.
“We know some of these properties have been this way for the 30, 40 years or so,” explained Baraka.
For Ladd, the West Ward “has everything it needed for a resurgence.” With “a good sustainable mix of residential, commercial, and public and institutional uses mix” including “active residents and local organizations,” it makes it an area that can be restored.
Six small developers won partnerships to be the first cohort with the City of Newark to reimagine and rebuild the West Ward. To introduce their work and the projects through the West Ward Neighborhood Development Plan, the city hosted a community town hall. In a virtual meeting with developers and several Newark officials, Councilmember Joseph McCallum who sponsored legislation for the redevelopment plan said he met with the developers two years ago. Now with the program finally getting the green light to move forward, they aim to restore 45 sites on 21 blocks.
City officials told Ark Republic that the project is funded by “a mix of private lenders, city and federal programs.” According to Baraka, the city will provide developers with the opportunity to buy and develop city-owned land at a low cost then provide “grants to first-time home buyers” as well as offer subsidies and streamline regulations for purchases.
As well, Baraka explained that some developers “lack the capacity and do not know how to get projects financed, started and completed,” but will be taught in the program. The developers, three of them women in the first cohort “responded to a request for proposals and requested specific properties.” Rather than the applicants participating in a competitive tract, they “were chosen on the basis of their ability to secure financing and their ability to carry out the work,” the City told Ark Republic.
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Racial justice protest in Newark, New Jersey during surge Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the May 2020 killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Photo credit: Jakayla Toney
With the loss of jobs and housing becoming paramount in a post-pandemic Newark, the program’s commitment to hire locally comes at the right time.
“As part of our redevelopment agreement there’s a certain percentage of Newark contractors, Newark suppliers and of the work force that we are required to have working on our projects “ said Narelle Myke of New Age Investment Property.
Like many other cities with a significant Black and Latinx community, unemployment and homeless have shot up during the Covid-19 crisis. In the town hall, the question of jobs came up repeatedly. While on the virtual call, most developers told of working with Newark contractors. They also said they were seeking interns.
In an unstable economy, the project’s success still weighs on if Newarkers can afford the homes. “We’re already developing at a loss . . . we’re taking a huge risk,” said Siree Morris of MCI Development and Ascension Capital Partners. “As developers, we have to find a meeting in the middle where we can make it affordable while also making it profitable enough for the base to give us the money to finance it.”
Morris is also co-founder of Newark Moonlight Cinema with his wife, filmmaker, Ayanna Stafford-Morris. The pop-up drive in theater is part of the “Sit Still Sundays,” another initiative through the City of Newark, to get residents to chill one day a week as the area works to totally flatten Covid-19 infections.
Already, some properties are built and available. The temperature of the economy depends on if residents will rent or buy.
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