By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Branch Village in the southern part of Camden was opened in 1941. The Camden Housing Authority has tried to keep it up, but it’s outlived its time.
“Ever since they moved the other buildings over, there’s been a lot of termites and things like that, a lot of mold,” said Branch Village resident Crystal Medina.
At the Branch Village community center this morning, New Jersey’s two U.S. senators and Camden’s congressman gathered to hear the deputy secretary of HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] bring some good news.
“I’m proud to announce today that we are awarding the city of Camden and the Housing Authority of the city of Camden with a $13 million Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant. Congratulations to you all,” announced Dominique Blom, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary.
The grant is intended as a catalyst for three sections of South Camden. Mt. Ephraim Avenue, the main corridor, looks shabby and dated. Pick a side street and you walk into some serious blight. Neglect is everywhere.
“It’s been sort of depressed, alienated from City Hall and the stakeholders, and I think the community, particularly its residents in the last couple of years got together in the last couple of years to say we have to create a bridge of hope for our neighborhood,” Camden council member at large Angel Fuentes said.
Branch Village will be be updated with 176 new town houses and 50 new homes.
“On behalf of the residents, I know they’re really really excited that finally they’re going to get quality affordable housing right here at the Branch Village site,” Camden Mayor Dana Redd said.
Does Medina hope to get a new home out of this? “Yes, I do,” she said. “I pray for a new home.”
Camden is one of just five cities awarded this type of HUD grant this year — the others being, Denver, St. Louis, Boston and Louisville. HUD says for every dollar in federal funds the project will attract five dollars in private and other public investment.
Redd envisions several hundred million dollars being drawn to the area, which is why she and other officials here were ebullient.
“I am the senior Democrat on the Senate Housing Committee, and this is what I live for, this is what I fight for,” Sen. Robert Menendez said.
Camden is becoming known as a city of revitalization. President Obama visited last year to praise its metropolitan police reform. Now, its vacant lots and boarded up homes in the southern part of town may join the rebirth.
“The greatest American civic comeback story for any city, trust me, in 10 years from now, will be the story of Camden, New Jersey,” Sen. Cory Booker said.
“Camden is rising. [This is] more evidence,” said Congressman Donald Norcross.
People here say the Camden renaissance is real, and certainly along the waterfront it is. But walk down a different block and you’ll see it still has a way to go.