NEWARK, NJ - The Newark Housing Authority is seeking investors under a new federal program to help fund the redevelopment of Terrell Homes, a public housing complex in the East Ward that faces mold and infrastructure issues.
Congressman Albio Sires and city officials are looking to entice investors since the project sits in a federal Opportunity Zone. The tax incentive program rewards private investors for funding projects in low-income areas and was created through legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
The Newark Housing Authority last year outlined a redevelopment plan for Terrell Homes, located at 30 Riverfront Court, and has put out a request for proposals for the project. Terrell Homes would need an initial investment of $24 million and then $46 million over the next 20 years, the housing authority said.
“There are developers out there that want to take advantage of this Opportunity Zone program,” said Newark Housing Authority Director Victor Cirilo in a June 11 presentation to city council members. “So right now is the right time for us to go out and put out this RFP for the construction of the new Terrell homes.”
The draft concept includes senior housing, walk up apartments, townhouses and potential homeownership opportunities. The plan calls for the buildings to face Riverfront Park and the Passaic River.
Terrell Homes was built in 1946 and was constructed in an area prone to flooding. It already had aging plumbing and electrical systems, but Superstorm Sandy in 2012 only added to the complex's woes.
The previous housing authority administration had planned to close and demolish the complex, sparking outrage amongst residents.
A new plan outlined last year called for three buildings - 60 units - to be rehabilitated. Other buildings with 215 units would be demolished and rebuilt.
The plan called for 88 additional units to be constructed, bringing the total in the complex to 363. Some of the apartments may be market-rate to offset any funding gaps for the project, Cirilo said last year. Last week, he reaffirmed that the housing authority would not sell the property.
“We're going to keep three buildings up,” Cirilo said during his presentation. “We're going to invest in those buildings. One of the most important investments is ventilation so we can attack the mold conditions. So for the residents that are sticking around the complex, that wish to remain for the next two, three years - we're going to put ventilation systems…”
Residents during previous council meetings have raised concerns about the speed of the project. Cirilo said last week the project was coming along.
“...It doesn't happen overnight, especially when you're pressed for cash,” Cirilo said. He added that the city is considering allowing the authority to use money from the housing trust fund, a pool of money that developers pay into when their projects don’t include affordable housing.
Some residents who live in buildings slated to be demolished and rebuilt are expected to receive vouchers that will allow them to temporarily move. They would be able to return once construction is completed.
“We need to continue to believe that this is all about people's lives,” said East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador. “It's not about buildings. If we all come together - I think the residents, myself, the housing authority the administration and the city council - I think we can resolve this problem.”