NEWARK, NJ — The month of March began with a win for Mayor Ras Baraka’s Newark Land Bank agreement, and it comes to a close with council’s deferred vote and uncertainty on its final passing as the financial impact of the coronavirus forces municipalities across the nation to tighten their purse strings.
On March 5, Baraka celebrated council’s vote to advance the agreement, which appoints the nonprofit 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.
“The Land Bank gives us the opportunity to be very creative, imaginative and expeditious about how we deal with properties that have been blighted for decades,” said Mayor Baraka. “Instead of spending millions of dollars trying to keep properties up, we can make them a key to the revitalization of our neighborhoods.”
The $5 million contract awarded to Invest Newark, formerly the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation, would take the onus of purchasing, redeveloping and selling blighted properties away from city government.
However, state and local governments are just starting to brace for major revenue losses brought on by the impact of COVID-19.
As the housing market is expected to essentially shut down — like many other industries during the pandemic — a Land Bank might not yield the ROI expected only a few weeks ago.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos wanted to know if the contract would be worth the cost considering the tremendous financial strain economists are predicting as a result of the coronavirus.
“My question to the administration is what kind of financial analysis can you show to this council that’s going to show savings on the city side now that we’ve authorized this particular entity to perform functions that were previously performed by the administration?” He said. “What is the cost savings on the city side that’s going to enable us to enable us to afford the $5 million a year that we have to contract with this entity to perform this land bank?”
For now, the only thing that’s certain is that the month will not be going out like a lamb.