CAMDEN, NJ — There wasn't much hesitation from Dennis and Janisa Perry in picking the best part of their new house.
For the former renters turned first-time homeowners with five children, the answer was easy.
"The yard," Janisa Perry said. "I've always wanted a yard for my kids to play outside."
The Camden family is set to move later this week into a renovated two-story dwelling on the 1700 block of Norris Street, thanks to a program overseen by New Life Community Development Corporation.
The nonprofit partners with the city using grant money to restore abandoned units in Whitman Park for rookie homebuyers.
Officials said the work to give access to affordable housing is a crucial part of empowering neighborhoods.
"We're tied to the Whitman Park neighborhood because we believe that our presence brings about an awareness in our community of the fact that we are invested in the health and wellbeing of our city," said Dana Green, pastor and head of New Life CDC, at a news conference outside the Perry home Monday morning.
Green spoke of carrying out the mission that Gilbert Ronald Green had in founding the organization. He stressed the elements necessary for every person to live the American Dream, coined the "eight points of need" — food, clothing, shelter, education, employment and job training, stewardship, transportation and health.
"When the basic needs of the people are provided, success in everything they do is birthed," Dana Green said.
Through the city's First Time Homebuyers Program, eligible individuals can receive as much as a $10,000 deferred loan in choosing to put down roots in Camden. The loan helps to offset down payments and closing costs for low- and moderate-income families.
Just across the street from where everyone gathered was another home brought back earlier with the help of New Life CDC, for new resident Martha Hendrickson.
HOME funds totaling approximately $250,000 were transferred for the work on the two Norris Street units, according to the office of Mayor Frank Moran.
"Anybody can own their own house today," she said. "It's a lot of work, but at the end of the day, you can own something. I thought I was not going to make it but I thank the people behind me that gave me the strength to go through."
In an upstairs bedroom where sunlight poured through the windows, Janisa Perry reflected on the journey to getting to stand there with her family. They not only had to wait through the normal process of construction on a house, but also for funding to come for the project.
"It's amazing. It's ours," Perry said. "No landlord, no one telling us what to do."
"Well he's the landlord now, I feel sorry for him," she joked, gesturing to her husband. "He's got to fix everything. I get to just sit back and decorate."
Amid the day's excitement, the timing of the event stood out to city resident and activist Gary Frazier Jr., one of several onlookers along Norris Street.
Frazier said the planned unveiling for the new home "felt like a show" to boost 2nd Ward candidate Victor Carstarphen, who was in attendance, the day before the primary election. A 1st Ward resident himself, Frazier believed Carstarphen would have come to the microphone had he not shown up.
Frazier walked up and down the street as the news conference got underway, phone in hand recording, calling out questions about Carstarphen's platform on topics like local control and long-term employment.
While officials talked of revitalization for one of the storied neighborhoods, Frazier had his own duty to stand for city residents.
"They knew this ward seat is really a fight," said Frazier, who is also co-chair of the Green Party of New Jersey. "I have to continue advocating for our people."