Taking Newark Back, One Piece at a Time

City Hall has issued a press release about the city’s efforts to take Newark back, one piece at a time.
Taking advantage of state legislation that gives cities expanded authority to reclaim properties that have been “vacant for more than six months and have unpaid taxes, or have been deemed blighted and hazardous to public safety.”

Think of it as Eminent Domain on steroids, but doubtless a law that’s been asked for across the state as beleaguered homeowners find it easier to walk away from homes with far higher mortgage payments — and far less value — in the midst of a massive market correction.

“Even in this tough economy, the revitalization of our City’s West Ward is beginning in earnest,” said Deputy Mayor Pryor. Private owners are responding to our actions by fixing up their buildings. Our development team is intervening to rehab five key properties. And we’re creating a garden and park where there was a vacant lot. All while involving local and minority participants in the process of creating new affordable housing. Thank you to the City Hall staff leaders and our many partners for making today’s progress possible.”

CITY OF NEWARK JOINS WITH LOCAL DEVELOPERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS TO REVITALIZE BLIGHTED PROPERTIES IN THE WEST WARD

Mayor Cory A. Booker joined today with West Ward Council Member Ronald Rice, Deputy Mayor for Economic and Housing Development Stefan Pryor, Director of Housing and Real Estate Michael Meyer, The George Group, LLC, representatives from the Greater Newark Housing Partnership, and other local dignitaries, community leaders and residents to break ground on rehabilitation of of five new homes and construction of a community garden, as part of the City of Newark’s initiative to revitalize vacant and abandoned properties in the West Ward.

Announced during a morning press conference at one of the development sites, the $1.5 million project includes the reconstruction of five previously City-owned properties, and is the first phase of a larger plan to rehabilitate blighted properties in the West Ward. Bounded by South Orange Avenue, South 9th Street, Central Avenue and South 12th Street, this 12-block area is being used as an initial pilot area for Newark’s Abandoned Properties Initiative.

“In the midst of economic uncertainty, Newark continues to forge ahead in its efforts to revitalize our neighborhoods and provide housing opportunities for residents,” said Mayor Booker. “In uniting with local developers to break ground on this new project, we are demonstrating the effectiveness of partnerships at the City, business and community levels to enact change and provide high quality of life for Newarkers.”

“I am so proud of Tate George, who grew up as a son of the West Ward and is now giving back to his community by helping to revitalize our neighborhoods,” said Councilman Rice during the ceremony. “Even in the face of a recession, Newark continues to take out its shovels and break ground to rebuild our City, create more affordable housing, and provide job opportunities for our residents.”

In December 2007, Newark officials announced the launch of the West Ward Vacant and Abandoned Properties Pilot Program, in which the City partnered with local and minority-based developers and community groups to redevelop City-owned and privately owned vacant and abandoned properties in the area.

The program’s unveiling came on the heels of Newark’s adoption of its first-ever Abandoned Property Ordinance. Based on the State’s Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act, the ordinance allows the City to take appropriate action against privately owned residential or mixed-use buildings that have been vacant for more than six months and have unpaid taxes, or have been deemed blighted and hazardous to public safety.
“Even in this tough economy, the revitalization of our City’s West Ward is beginning in earnest,” said Deputy Mayor Pryor. Private owners are responding to our actions by fixing up their buildings. Our development team is intervening to rehab five key properties. And we’re creating a garden and park where there was a vacant lot. All while involving local and minority participants in the process of creating new affordable housing. Thank you to the City Hall staff leaders and our many partners for making today’s progress possible.”

In initiating the pilot program, the City published its Abandoned Property List notifying private property owners of their buildings’ designation as abandoned, with all proprietors receiving official notices by regular and certified mail. Newark officials then performed a preliminary survey, identifying 42 privately owned properties for redevelopment. Of the 42 private properties, owners of 13 properties have already either renovated their buildings or initiated repairs.

“Under the Abandoned Property Act, the City has increased authority to go after abandoned properties. However, the best outcome is when private owners themselves step up on their own and make the needed repairs to clean up their buildings. Our efforts in the West Ward have helped make a number of owners understand the urgency of putting their properties back into productive use – and the potential consequences of failing to do so,” said Michael Meyer, Director of Housing and Real Estate.

In developing the properties, the George Group will follow a plan that was produced under contract with the City by the Urban League of Essex County, an important neighborhood stakeholder. The Urban League convened four community-wide meetings to identify land-use and planning issues and concerns and provided recommendations on how each of the sites included in the project should be developed. The Urban League engaged Newwork, Inc., a Newark-based planning and development firm to assist in its planning work.

Master redeveloper The George Group, LLC was chosen by the City’s evaluation committee to spearhead construction of the project. Led by Newark-native Tate George, The George Group, LLC focuses on holistic and socially responsible redevelopment in urban areas. Mr. George’s development team includes local and small contractors and developers working to gain greater experience in the development business. The partners will take on roles ranging from construction management to co-developer to general contractor, depending on their interests and capabilities.

“The George Group LLC and C. Tate George feel very grateful to be a part of this exciting project and the continual efforts to rebuild the West Ward with those that work and live in Newark,” said Mr. George. “I think this will be a success for not only my group but, for the community as a whole”.

To execute the project, The George Group LLC formed a joint venture with the Greater Newark Housing Partnership. The Greater Newark Housing Partnership is a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance, access to financing and program support in the development of workforce and affordable housing.

“The Greater Newark Housing Partnership is excited to participate in the first phase of rehabilitation in the City of Newark’s Abandoned Properties Initiative,” said President and CEO Daniel Martin. “We are delighted to provide affordable homeownership opportunities for the residents of Newark. We are proud and privileged to be part of this venture.”

In addition to the five sites currently undergoing rehabilitation, the team of redevelopers is also beginning work on a community garden and park on 13th Avenue, located across the street from the 13th Avenue Elementary School. When complete, the garden will provide Newark youth with approximately 2,400 square feet of green space, with educational, recreational and gardening opportunities for local residents. Design and development of the garden was sponsored by the Greater Newark Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access to open space in Newark.

The five homes are slated for completion by the end of 2009. The overall redevelopment project is slated to continue through 2012.

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Newarker, PCA Elder, Business Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

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