NEW JERSEY (PIX11) — From Paterson to Hackensack, South Orange and Camden, New Jersey is experiencing what some would call a construction boom, with housing developments on the rise.
Historically, development in a community is seen as a good thing, especially when it comes to the jobs, foot traffic and upgrades it brings to the area. But as some residents watch the rising condos change the landscape of their blocks, the only thing that comes to mind is gentrification.
“Individuals are finding New Jersey often called the big suburb, a viable way to maintain their proximity to the major metropolitan market,” James Williams, director of Racial Justice Policy at Fair Share Housing Center, explained.
Hoboken and Jersey City know all about it. The cities already saw significant growth in the past three decades, but it appears developers have set their sights on hubs like Bergen, Essex and Passaic Counties in recent years.
Brian Hekemian is the chief operating officer at Hekemian & Company — a family-owned and operated real estate management and development company. He also serves as chairman of the Main Street Business Alliance, which has played a significant role in revitalizing Hackensack’s downtown sector.
The dramatic changes to the town, which some have described in the past as a retail ghost town, should excite rather than worry residents, Hekemian said.
“The city is strategically poised for this type of growth,” he said. “Home values will increase because this becomes a destination. The downtown becomes vibrant restaurants, as restaurants come, as nightlife starts to grow, this becomes a better lifestyle for those who live in greater Hackensack.”
Ed Decker, the owner of Musically Yours, a music equipment shop on Main Street, has seen firsthand the evolution of the main drag. He’s thrilled about the city’s current direction.
“It’s going to increase the values of homes,” he said. “When the downtown is a great downtown, people are going to want to live here. That’s why everyone goes to Ridgewood. That’s why everyone loves Englewood.”
In Paterson, development is focused on making what is old, new again. In addition to a $94 million project that will restore Hinchliffe Stadium, the city is on what officials described as an unbridled path to restore and repurpose structures from its industrial past. It plans to bring housing to the area – as many as 200 new rental units housed in former manufacturing mills.
“We have taken all of the derelict land in the city and turned it into productive public use,” Michael Powell, director of economic development for Paterson, told PIX11 News. “This public use is going to be for kids, it’s going to be for families it’s going to be for the entire neighborhood.”
One of those projects is the Great Falls Lofts, situated right near the city’s pride and joy. When it’s complete, the development hopes to attract those who live and work in Paterson.
The city is working closely with the developer Procida Funding to keep the community involved in the process. Paterson resident Ashley Brito was brought on board to the development team.
“It just gives me hope for the future I am not just doing it for today but for future generations to come,” Brito said.
And in the state’s largest city – Newark – growth and development have become a double-edged sword. A recent report by Rutgers uncovered that corporations have been swooping into the city in recent years, buying up 1-to-4 unit homes and then converting them into rentals. It’s a practice described as legal but shady.
The trend not only influences rent in those neighborhoods, but it also puts the squeeze on residents looking to become homeowners. As officials move to crack down on such practices, they are also welcoming development groups that put the community first.
A housing complex now under construction is a collaboration with a development company founded by Newark native Queen Latifah. Her goal, she says, is simple.
“I want to make sure that there’s an opportunity for people who grew up and live in this area to be able to stay in their communities, gift to their communities and live in better places,” she told reporters at a recent groundbreaking.
The rapper is a shining testament of what effective community outreach looks like when tackling the statewide housing crisis, housing advocates say.
“Capitalism drives a lot of these projects and the reason why we don’t see a more intentional focus on creating projects like [Latifah’s], she is not going to make a windfall of money,” housing advocate James Williams said.