EAST ORANGE, NJ - Keely Freeman, Executive Director of the Sierra House, announced in 2015 that the organization has a new project: The Neighborhood Improvement Program. Recognizing that East Orange is one of the cities hit hard by foreclosures, which resulted in urban blight, vacant lots, abandoned houses, and boarded-up houses and businesses, Keely saw potential. She began working with banks, the City of East Orange, and other nonprofits to seek a way to redevelop properties, invest in the community, bring residents together to initiate change, and create ways to seek improvement.

Bill Hunter who was recruited in late 2015 to assist with the program, organized a stakeholder’s meeting in November of 2015. According to Mr. Hunter, "There are over 250 abandoned properties in Greenwood and of 33 storefronts; only 13 are occupied." 

The primary goal of the Neighborhood Improvement Program is to restore the Greenwood area and to make it one of the best areas in East Orange; with clearly defined borders. Existing housing would be improved and abandoned homes would be reconstructed with innovative environmentally friendly designs. 

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Mr. Hunter remarks, ”Ideally, we would like to attract the 1000 plus city employees, teachers, police, and hospital workers to buy homes in Greenwood and also attract those who commute to New York City and Newark as Greenwood is a far less costly alternative to other places located near train stations. Young first-time homebuyers (millennials) and urban pioneers would also be targeted. East Orange has an excellent police department and the city has effectively reduced crime despite the public perception that the streets are not safe. 

In discussing the retail sector, Mr. Hunter mentioned that "there are no banks or food markets in Greenwood and many other retail outlets, cultural and recreation facilities are needed in the community.” The stakeholders in the community would participate in and promote the neighborhood plan; this would include area residents, the City of East Orange, the police department, merchants, banks, community groups, schools, medical facilities, land developers, and nonprofits. The role of Sierra House in this endeavor is to coordinate community forums, create a Greenwood Neighborhood Plan, raise capital to fund the plan, work with the City of East Orange to gain approval for it, and manage its implementation.

Mr. Hunter revealed that we need approximately $60,000 to execute our plan. He added it is imperative that when individuals purchase homes in Greenwood that they be residents who plan to occupy the homes, as we are trying to change the city pattern of 75% renters and 25% owner occupied.

Sierra House is seeking the support of the community and is asking all residents to participate in the neighborhood plan. Three meetings to promote the Greenwood Neighborhood Plan have taken place, and during the most recent one, five committees were introduced: housing, economic development/ job creation, education/arts/recreation, public safety and events/marketing. 

Please contact Bill Hunter at (973) 678-3556 or via email at bill.hunter@sierrahouse.org if you would like to participate in the neighborhood-planning process.