NEWARK, NJ — The land bank ordinance that Mayor Ras Baraka championed at its first passage just before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis was adopted in city council today, but not without pushback from some members. 

Meeting remotely over Zoom, council weighed the possibility of deferring the ordinance again in favor of waiting for a presentation from city administration on how the pandemic will impact Newark’s finances. 

“Our sister city, Jersey City, has already announced some pretty drastic measures because they’re anticipating having significant reductions in revenue,” said North Ward councilmember Anibal Ramos to Eric Pennington, city business administrator. “I understand Invest Newark needs resources to operate, but we also need to be sure as stewards of the city’s finances that we’re in a position where we can afford this, and right now, I haven’t seen anything from you or anything else from this administration that shows we have a plan in place to kind of whether the storm.”

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Ultimately, the council voted to adopt the ordinance on the condition that Pennington would present information related to how the coronavirus crisis is projected to affect the city’s bottom line. Despite not knowing how revenue like property and payroll taxes will be hurt by COVID-19, Council President Mildred Crump said she was “sold on the project.” 

The agreement was deferred at council’s March 25 meeting amid hesitation regarding the $5 million contract to be awarded to Invest Newark, formerly Newark Economic Development Corporation, the nonprofit who will administer the land bank for the city. Council members cited worries about what the future might hold for a post-COVID-19 Newark, where revenues will be compromised, the need for resources high and the housing market incapacitated. 

On March 5, Baraka celebrated council’s vote to advance the agreement, which appoints Invest Newark to redevelop vacant or abandoned properties to better serve the public interest. The ordinance is part of Baraka’s Newark Forward Equitable Growth strategy, and its first passage was hailed as a historic milestone for the city by both his office and council members. 

For more than a year, Baraka advocated for a land bank bill in Trenton and later stood beside Gov. Phil Murphy as Murphy signed the bill in Newark, giving municipalities the ability to sell blighted properties through a delegated entity. The ordinance is one with significant buildup behind it. 

“I am concerned about the city setting up a contract with Invest Newark in the amount of $5 million to administer the land bank without establishing a parameter on the number of properties that are responsible for under this agreement,” Ramos told TAPinto Newark. “Secondly, I believe that the city needs to carefully assess the economic impact that COVID-19 is going to have on the city's finances in terms of lost revenue and evaluate whether a contract in this amount is warranted at this time.”