Pushing back against gentrification in Newark, New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. — Newark, New Jersey remains a study in contrasts.

Shiny storefronts in the booming downtown district are still outnumbered by liquor stores, barber shops, and other modest mom and pop shops… scattered across other, less developed areas of the city.

But the latest chapter of Newark’s now decade long renaissance, a massive 7-phase downtown development project, on the site of a minor league baseball stadium, now includes a citywide plan to level the playing field between the haves and have nots.

It includes affordable housing, and minority contractor hiring requirements.

"The people in Newark need jobs, man," Larry Hamm, the Executive Director of the People's Organization for Progress, says. "The major problem with gentrification is affordable housing. When these projects come in, many times they’re advertised as affordable, but they’re really beyond the real income of the people that live in the city."

Newark’s potential has never been in question. The uncertainty has been, and still is, whether impoverished neighborhoods across the city can take advantage of that potential.

We’re less than a 5-minute drive from Broad Street in downtown. But right off South Orange Avenue, it seems like we’re a world away. There are no Starbucks here... just boarded up homes, empty lots, and the faint whisper of lost opportunity.

Along South Orange Avenue, deep into Newark, there is deep skepticism about Mayor Ras Baraka's anti-gentrification plan and whether it can ensure no Newark-er is left behind.

One Newark resident told PIX11 "Oh they taking downtown from us. How we supposed to have living, in a city... rent $1200... $1500 for a studio apartment. Talk about it... we can’t afford that.”

Another resident remarked, “I applied for an apartment down the street that was supposed to be slash low income, $595 for a studio, okay? I’m disabled. I get $800 a month. They tell me no, I gotta make double in order to get into this apartment.”

Mayor Baraka’s office emailed PIX11 details of the city’s new equitable growth commission, which includes:

  • A requirement that developers receiving tax abatements set aside 20 percent of their units for affordable housing in the $20-$40 annual income range;
  • A requirement that developers partner with contractor businesses owned by people of color;
  • Strengthened rent controls to discourage landlords from pricing out low-income tenants—one of the hallmarks of gentrification.

"We are actively involved in implementing strategies to ensure that the investment boom benefits all Newark-ers, of all ages, races and ethnicities, in every neighborhood and that none of us are pushed out by the changes taking place," Mayor Baraka said to PIX11.

Joe Della Fave is Executive Director of the Ironbound Community Corporation and a key architect of the inclusionary, affordable housing zoning requirements ultimately adopted by Mayor Baraka.

“It’s a really difficult balance," Della Fave said. "You really can’t have progress by simply improving buildings. You need to have progress with people too. We characterize this as always uplift, never uproot. Development with displacement, justice for all basically. So this is critical in terms of how we move forward."

Those are admirable—and with careful planning—all potentially achievable goals.

But as we’ve seen over the years in Harlem, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Hoboken and Jersey City, the appetite for profit in developing, gentrifying areas can often devour what’s left of affordable housing. Turning struggling residents – into priced out strangers in their own neighborhoods.

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