Housing win in Newark (13 projects … 302 affordable units): Here’s what it means

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has long talked of making sure Newark’s growth in the downtown is felt all over town — especially when it comes to housing.

It’s one of the reasons Baraka and city officials were excited when Allison Ladd came on as the director of Economic & Housing Development last fall.

Earlier this week, Baraka announced that Newark has committed $5,243,276 in Federal HOME money to fund affordable housing units within developments throughout Newark’s five wards. Together, the 13 developments comprise 302 affordable housing units, 89 of which are HOME funded.

The 13 range from new two- and three- family homes to the renovation of vacant apartment buildings, the construction of new apartment buildings and the conversion of a manufacturing plant into a seven-story loft residential building.

And nine of the 13 have minority and women developers.

“Where we spend our housing dollars in Newark is determined by our commitment to equitable growth — creating more homeownership, more places to live that residents can afford and nurturing more minority and women contractors to build community wealth,” Baraka said.

“In this way, we are providing well-paying jobs for residents as we ensure the rebirth of blighted neighborhoods. An important goal of my administration is for residents of all our neighborhoods to benefit from the accelerating development taking place downtown.”

ROI-NJ caught up with Ladd to talk about the significance of this announcement — and what may be coming in the future.

The Q&A was edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: Thirteen projects … 302 affordable units. This sound like big stuff. Give us an overview of how this will impact Newark?

Allison Ladd: I think this is a big step forward. One of the things that Mayor Baraka and I talked about when I first came here was affordable housing, and how do we create a downtown in the neighborhoods, so people have choice. The HOME funds are federal dollars that come to the city every year. We wanted to find a way to make it more transparent. So, we issued (a Request for Proposals) back in February, we received 25 applications and we selected 13 projects.

We really did want to make sure, though, that they were spread out throughout the city. So, there’s a development in each ward, at least one. They are not only providing the HOME-funded units, but some of them are just allowing an affordable housing development to have the gap financing it needs so it can get to construction.

ROI: Nine of the 13 projects have a minority or a female developer. That could be huge. Talk about that?

AL: That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here from an equitable development standpoint, for sure. We wanted to make sure that there’s the access to resources. I think this approach to using our federal funds amplifies what’s happened when the mayor announced the NWK FAM Fund on Monday, and just trying to bring more capital more resources to Newark, to Newarkers, and really let us be part of the growth of the city.

At the same time, I think that the other developments and our for-profit development partners, we need them, too. We need to have the balance because, as we’re growing here in the city, we need to have interest from people across the state or the tri-state. And by that, I mean, it’s going to take all of the energy, all of the interest to really bring the city to the vision that the mayor has. We’re just trying to have good balance here.

ROI: Speaking of balance, let’s be honest, it’s nice when you can announce a Carl Dranoff project, or Shaq or Queen Latifah — those are going to get the headlines and bring a spotlight to Newark. But these projects are just as important. These are the foundations on which cities grow, correct?

AL: It’s just as important. We must do this type of work. I think the larger projects are critical, too, because they’re also building units for people who may want to move into the city as we continue to want to grow our population. Before COVID, our population was growing about 3% a year, which was good for us, because it gives us more revenue. And our population growth also yielded the need to also have new units.

So, anything that’s happening downtown, with the projects you mentioned, is important. At the same time, though, we need quality, affordable housing. And, so, it’s going to take the mindset of committed developers and our partners to be able to do. Affordable housing is not easy. It’s a complicated mix of financing and capital stacks and approvals at multiple levels, whether it’s state or federal or here on the local side.

It really takes a lot of heart and a lot of passion for people to want to do this work. And we are really glad that we had 13 projects. We actually have 25. And, I think, if we had enough funding, we probably want to fund it, all of them. We just had limited resources.

ROI: That goes to the final question. This is Year One for you — the craziest year anyone could imagine — and you got a lot done. When you look at Year Two and Three and Five, what are the next steps?

AL: My first year was a lot about team-building. This doesn’t happen without having a strong team. The team at (Economic & Housing Development) has been great. Many of them were here before I arrived. All of this was about building that team because, as we grow as a team, we’re able to produce at a higher level.

The second thing about the future, honestly, is we just have to accelerate. We’ve got to go faster, we’ve got to find a way to find solutions. And we’ve got to bring more capital to the city. Part of my struggle is that we don’t have a lot of resources that can fill gaps. And, so, what we’ve been doing is building relationships at the state level, talking more to the lending partners and the people who do community development and investment, because the more they know who is here in the city and trying to do the good work, I think we have a higher probability of bringing the capital that we need here.

A lot of it has been also showcasing the work of the team, including people like (communications director) Frank Baraff. I’ll sing Frank’s praises every day. I’m so glad that he’s a part of (the department). He’s been helping us make sure our message gets out there. Every day, all the time.