NEWARK, NJ — An initiative to lead Newark through its post-COVID economic recovery has launched with the aim boost homeownership for residents and create affordable and market-rate housing throughout the city. 

The launch of The Newark Land Bank, a program endorsed by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to improve the quality of life for Newark residents, was celebrated on Tuesday by land bank and city officials at 93 3rd St., one of the first properties to be made available on the website. 

By increasing minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) developers and subcontractor capacity, the program intends to create inclusive investment opportunities for local entrepreneurs as an economic recovery pathway. 

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“It gives us an opportunity to attack blight,” Baraka said. “Growing up in Newark - in neighborhoods - there’s lots and abandoned property that have been there decades… It’s property that I have walked past all my life for 30 to 40 years.”

The land bank is the first of its kind to launch in New Jersey following legislation Gov. Phil Murphy passed in 2019. The program allows state municipalities to designate a land bank entity to obtain vacant, abandoned, and neglected properties for productive reuse purposes. 

With empty, vacant properties that have the potential to contribute to what the mayor called a “poor quality of life” for residents, he noted that the program will provide opportunities for Newarkers to build their own businesses.

“The way that we begin to change that is that we have to redevelop it,” the mayor said. “We don’t want speculators to come in and redevelop the properties. We want to give opportunities to small developers, local developers, homeowners and residents in this community to help improve their own communities and lives.”

The city currently faces a low rate in homeownership, according to a report published in September by Urban Institute. The report indicates that in 2018, 22% of households in Newark were homeowners, which is less than half the rate in Essex County overall. 

"Newark’s homeownership rate is also below that of similar cities, both sister cities within New Jersey and others around the country," the report stated. "Newark’s low homeownership rate is reflected among white, Black and Hispanic households. Although the white homeownership rate is above both the Black and Hispanic rates, the difference is smaller than in the US overall. All three groups in Newark have homeownership rates below those incomparable areas in New Jersey." 

Faced with a low rate of homeownership in the city and an economy that was heavily impacted by the pandemic, Invest Newark President and CEO Bernel Hall told TAPinto Newark that the land bank program will expedite the process of accepting bids and redevelopment proposals for vacant lots and buildings, and provide equitable access to properties for everyday citizens.

“Newark is on the precipice of significant redevelopment,” Hall said. “We need the land bank to give people who have gone through all of the downturns and other issues Newark is facing to have the same opportunities that developers who are looking to take advantage of Newark’s upturn.”

As part of the initiative to provide the community with expanded access and opportunity to own property, Invest Newark has already contracted with Karima Jackson of Exquisite Property Services, a Newark-based MWBE, to provide the maintenance and manage the property preparation. 

Residents interested in the Newark Land Bank can create profiles on the program's website to review available properties, register to receive notifications and directly apply to properties. 

Newark Land Bank properties will be open for applications at 8 p.m. after a community meeting on March 2.