In Newark, Small Strides Toward More, Affordable Housing

By David Cruz

It’s a warm, sunny day in the South Ward of Newark, and city officials are gathering in front of this notorious apartment building on Stratford Place to announce the distribution of housing vouchers for tenants displaced by horrific conditions. It’s the first of two stops where Mayor Ras Baraka will be able to celebrate finding affordable homes for people in dire need.

“We are working hard to make sure that that is something we can provide for people; that’s why we’re not going to take this building completely off the rolls,” said Baraka. “We are reselling the building and it’s going to be redeveloped and it’s going to be affordable housing still. These people in here are just going to have to move so that we can go ahead and do that.”

But even as the city cracks down on slumlords, like the one who owned this building, it must find places for these tenants to live. The state-financed housing vouchers help, but just finding clean, safe and affordable housing in this city where market rate housing makes developers the most money. For a single mom like Yanira Cortez, it’s a daily struggle.

“Well, it’s very hard. Our building was shut down — 86 Brunswick, owned by the same landlord,” she said. “It was shut down last year. Going to apply to different places that are public housing. It takes about two to three years to get on the waiting list, not to call you back, not to receive an apartment, but actually the waiting period of it.”

Finding affordable housing is just one of the many challenges poor and working class Newarkers face every day. Refurbished homes on Chadwick Avenue are a symbol of what can be and a reality check on what’s still needed.

“Newark’s rents are very high and it’s becoming less and less affordable every month and every year,” noted Newark Housing Authority Executive Director Keith Kinard. “The real challenge in Newark is the cost to develop. The cost to develop here is very high as you can imagine.”

The Shabazz High School Band is out today to celebrate the opening of Chadwick Avenue Village Townhouses. The Housing Authority does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to providing affordable housing. Jodi Bishop and her three girls moved in just two weeks ago.

“Some people portray us like we got to be a product of our environment and we really don’t,” she said. “It’s about the company you keep. You just stay to yourself and mind your business and take care of your children, pay your rent, be a productive citizen and everything else will fall into place as you can see.”

The city needs state and federal partners to help subsidize rents, but when it comes to building affordable housing, it’s a little more difficult to incentivize private developers, says South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James.

“We can’t necessarily fund, completely finance and what have you,” he noted. “They’re going to have to get that from other sources — state, federal grants, what have you — but we want to make sure on our level, we have an open door policy whereas, if you want to build quality housing for those residents who need it, we’re going to support you.”

Any time you can put people into safe, affordable housing, it’s a victory, but everyone here knows that unlike market-rate housing, the market for which lives and dies on real estate speculation, building housing for the rest of the city’s residents takes time, patience and partners.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.