CAMDEN, NJ — The incoming owner of the Crestbury Apartments received the green light Tuesday from the Camden City Council to apply for a 30-year tax abatement in order to complete $24 million in renovations.
Living conditions in Crestbury, located in the southern part of the city, are notorious for the array of issues residents there have dealt with over the decades — including problematic structural conditions, sewage problems, and neglected garbage pick-ups.
This past weekend, what started as a clogged bathtub for a Camden mother ultimately led to feces and brown water spurting from her drains.
Caranna Freeman told TAPinto Camden that she made the discovery when her 4-year-old son believed “the bathtub would explode.”
“I had to call to have the issue fixed. It was not handled as quickly as it should have given that it was an emergency and I have a son,” Freeman said. "“No one should be living like this.”
Freeman said it was not the first issue of this kind she's had at the apartment.
“What I have seen with my own two eyes makes me distrust anything here. Honestly, I think it should be torn down permanently,” she added.
That’s not the plan, however.
When the 20-acre affordable housing property changes hands, which is expected to happen in the second quarter of 2020, the new owner said much-needed renovations are on the horizon.
A timely matter
The unanimous passing of the ordinance, which was first read during the Jan. 14 council meeting, will now allow Hudson Valley Property Group (the incoming set of managers), to apply under the Long Term Tax Exemption Law for the renovation.
The owners would submit payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) in order to compensate the city for the property tax revenue lost due to the exemption.
First Ward Councilwoman Shaneka Boucher and Council-Member-At-Large Sheila Davis have had ongoing conversations with residents in the area.
“The residents living at Crestbury want to see something to happen right away,” Boucher said after the meeting. “We want to move as expeditiously as we can, while also making sure we have the right information.”
Boucher said she knows of at least five tenants who were ready to pack their bags and leave this month.
She said she understands that Freeman’s sewage problem, and others like it, “are fixed any time something happens” and are an issue she will be mindful of as the project moves forward.
Harvey Johnson, an attorney for the Hudson Valley Property Group, explained that the apartments would be renovated in phases and residents would be accommodated as each sector was being worked on.
For residents concerned about rent being raised, Boucher said property owners are mandated to follow a formula that assures the units remain affordable.
Johnson noted that a community center, posited by Davis, would not be a possible addition but said the project will generate up to 100 jobs for locals.
The new owner aims to complete the renovations for all 391 units by the end of 2021.
Still, Freeman said she’s fed up and doesn’t plan to wait for the redevelopment.
“I’ve been here for a little over a year at this point, but I’m done,” she said. “Changes can’t come quick enough.”
The property has been owned since 2017 by Lincoln Avenue Capital — a subsidiary of the Matthew Bronfman Family Office.
The owner and manager did not immediately respond for comment.
Thomas Rapacki (pictured above in orange with Johnson), a resident, disagreed with the use of tax abatements for the project and claimed the public did not see any background information regarding the project “except for a couple of pages.”
“I'm waiting to see whether or not we can afford this anymore,” he said during the council meeting. “So you're hearing it from a taxpayer who's going to go into state and I’m going to start filing complaints.”
Boucher said after the meeting that residents have been kept up to date on the project.
However, she said she also inquired as to the duration of the tax breaks.
“Obviously the council would have preferred to have something lower,” she said.
Johnson told council members that 30 years are being required by the NJ Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) in order to move forward.
He said his client has an agreement with the HMFA to work in 17 different communities to preserve affordable housing.
When questioned over the new property owner acting in good faith by Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton, Johnson said Hudson Valley “has a track record of doing just that.”
My client, “has done a good job in terms of going in and renovating these types of developments…[including] putting in new kitchens and recreational areas, etc.”
With plans to head to the apartments on Wednesday, Boucher said, “the work is just getting started.”