NEWARK, NJ — Four years ago, the city of Newark set out to breathe new life into a portion of the West Ward from the border of Irvington to South 13th Street between South Orange Avenue and 16th Avenue peppered with blighted properties.
The redevelopment plan, focused on creating new multi-family housing, has become a model for the rest of the city not just for what it offers the municipality, but the people who call it home, according to Allison Ladd, Director Economic and Housing Development.
Local developers typically boxed out of competitive markets have found an inclusive space within Newark’s neighborhood revitalization project, which hopes to encourage the creation of generational wealth for its Black and Latinx communities. Developers Eugenia Hamlett, Jamilah Muhammad and Narelle Myke said on a Zoom call with TAPinto Newark that their partnerships with the city have enabled them to expand their portfolios and opportunities.
Myke, a budding developer and the owner of New Age Investment Properties, said the redevelopment plan was her shot to prove herself. The buy and hold investor had been putting her resources into the area since 2014 and figured she would try her hand at development.
“I literally stalked the previous (Economic and Housing Development) Director at City Hall. At the time, I didn’t have the ground-up development experience, but I knew that I could do it,” she said.
Myke purchased three vacant lots in the West Ward in 2019 and plans to build three three-family homes on S. 18th Street. The first project will break ground at the end of 2020 and see completion in the spring of 2021, providing nine total units within affordable rates.
Keeping Newark’s neighborhoods accessible to low and middle-income families has been a key piece of the redevelopment plan since its inception. Muhammad, a South Ward native who operates Rising Plains, LLC with her three adult children, closed on 10 parcels of West Ward property in 2018 and plans to keep most of the rental units she builds affordable.
“We want the neighborhood to progress, and we think having a mixture of market-rate and affordable housing will definitely help it get there,” she said.
Rising Plains has turned around four two-family homes, rehabilitated a rental property and started new construction on another three-family home that will be put on the market. In a three-phase plan, Muhammad and her enterprising family will construct more two- and three-family homes and merge two larger lots to create affordable rental housing.
“Affordable housing is going to be a key part of what the future of our city is, and development like what you’re hearing today as well as the women here who are bringing this to us, is really phenomenal at this time,” Ladd said. “Our work on our neighborhoods is really the heartbeat of what our city needs.”
Hamlett, a former social worker who worked securing housing for clients with HIV until 2003, is also committed to not just developing the West Ward, but restoring it for the community. Her husband-and-wife team is working on a six-unit multi-family residential on S. 18th Street that will be a mix of low- and moderate-income affordable housing.
In addition to two- and three-family homes that Hamlett Management will put up for sale, the company also has plans for an 11-unit mixed-use building on the corner of 16th Avenue and S. 17th Street.
“What this means for us is finally being able to put our experience to use with real projects and real results, giving Newark residents safe and affordable housing while we still turn a profit,” Hamlett said. “There’s always a stigma with the numbered streets, and our mission is to transform some of them into safe and affordable neighborhoods.
In the few years since Hamlett has begun working in the West Ward, she said she’s already seen major improvements. In 2016, she was ready to walk away from the property she was developing after being burglarized four times.
Now, she says she hasn’t experienced any issues with the properties she’s working on now. Muhammad and Myke echoed Hamlett’s experience, taking note of the work of Principal Akbar Cook at West Side High School and the presence of businesses like the Akwaaba Gallery.
“I see the ‘coming soon.’ Just to be in, looking out, I can see the promise we are making. I have the opportunity to meet other developers and contractors outside of Newark, and they want to be one of us,” Muhammad said.
On the way to a better, brighter West Ward, Ladd said the city is hoping to set an example for its residents: Alongside all the major development deals happening downtown, there’s room for Newarkers to stake their claim.
“We all have a track record, so that’s definitely nothing that can be questioned. There are going to be little Black girls that will be able to see real estate developers such as us doing the damn thing, and you can quote me on that,” Myke said.
The city of Newark will hold a virtual community meeting on Thursday, July 30 at 7 p.m. with Myke, Hamlett, Muhammad and three other small developers. Go to the City of Newark Facebook page to learn more about the participants’ paths to development and West Ward Redevelopment Plan.