On the day Trenton tops its homicide record, city announces online public auction of 50 properties

The timing is difficult. On the day Trenton officials announced “open houses” for 50 city-owned properties — which will go up for auction Dec. 9 — city officials also announced the city had broken the record for the most homicides in a year. There have now been 39 in 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy, during his COVID-19 briefing, was excited about the housing auction — and also excited about the news that minor-league baseball was returning to the city — but he called the homicide news “tragic.”

Murphy said the state’s tough antigun laws are not enough.

“We continue to work with the mayor, with the community leadership, faith leadership, certainly with the police department, Mercer County sheriff’s, and it’s not a milestone that anybody looks at with anything other than a very heavy heart,” he said.

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said homeownership is a way cities can become safer — and that these 50 properties, most of which are residential — are meant to spur that reality.

“For the first time ever, we are hosting an auction online to address any related COVID-19 concerns, broaden our reach and make it as easy as possible to participate,” Gusciora said. “Our goal is to get these properties back to where they belong: in the hands of Trentonians who want to call this city their home.”

The properties will be available to owners who commit to living in Trenton for five years.

All interested bidders must register at trentonnj.org/auction, where they can also find photographs and other information related to each property.

Of the 50 properties, most are residential and require the bidder to commit to living at the property for five years. The auction includes multiple commercial properties and vacant lots, as well.

Murphy said the news is a potentially exciting development for the city.

The auction is being run by Trenton’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, which will also host virtual public information sessions at 10 a.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. Thursday.

While registration for the auction is free, all bidders will be required to make a deposit of $1,000 in order to participate. The deposit will be credited to the purchase or refunded to bidders who do not successfully bid on any property.

The properties will be open for physical inspection prior to the auction. The dates and times will be posted on each property listing on the auction website. Pursuant to CDC COVID-19 guidelines, all potential bidders must wear masks and practice social distancing during the inspections.

Successful bidders are required to make a nonrefundable deposit of 10% of the successful bid within 24 hours of the day of the auction. The successful bidder will be notified by the city of the date and time to come to City Hall to execute the contract of sale.

Gusciora was somber when it came to the homicide total, which topped the previous mark, set in 2013.

“When we set out to lift Trenton together, this was not the milestone we wanted to see,” he said. “In fact, overall crime was trending downward the previous two years, with 16 homicides in 2018 and 15 homicides in 2019.”

Gusciora said COVID-19 has been tough on everyone — but stressed it is not an excuse for violence.

“Economic uncertainty is higher than it has ever been in recent memory,” he said. “School was for some children the only safe space they had. Youth engagement and recreational activities have grinded to a halt. Every police officer who has to quarantine for 14 days is one less guardian on the street, a heavy blow for a police department that is already much smaller than it was just a few years ago.

“I understand this provides little comfort to the family and friends that lost loved ones to the violence. I’ve sat with the families. I’ve visited the hospitals. They don’t want excuses. They want a city that is safe for their children.”

Gusciora said the housing auction is just one effort his administration is taking to fight the violence.

“While the police department works to dismantle crime in our streets, my administration is working to address the very environment in which it festers,” he said. “We established a new reentry program to break the recidivism that traps so many of our residents in an endless cycle of crime. We’re building new safe and affordable housing for residents and improving community centers all around the city. We’re also making loans available for businesses who are affected by COVID-19 to help keep Trentonians employed.”

Gusciora said Trenton can never make up for the losses it has suffered this year.

“We are carefully evaluating Trenton law enforcement leadership and strategy at this moment,” he said. “We owe it to our residents to explore every possible avenue to ensure 2021 is not a repeat of 2020.”