Newark Land Bank, potential wealth creation tool that can improve quality of life, formally launches

City officials are hopeful program will allow Newark residents to ‘invest in their neighborhood while investing in themselves’

Calling it a long-awaited initiative to improve quality of life — and homeownership — in Newark, Invest Newark formally launched the Newark Land Bank on Tuesday.

The initiative, championed by Mayor Ras Baraka, aims to lead the way in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery of Newark by creating affordable and market-rate housing. By increasing minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises (known as MWDBE), the program hopes to create inclusive investment opportunities for local entrepreneurs as an economic recovery pathway.

The program already has proven successful. Within three weeks of launching in late January, the Land Bank website has seen over 900 registered users and 80,000-plus Application Program Interface hits.

Those who are interested can create profiles on the Land Bank website to review available properties, register to receive notifications and directly apply to properties. Users can also access tutorial training videos, learn more about specific programs and find information on policies and additional resources. The Land Bank also offers a Resident Advantage, so Newark residents can apply for first-time homeownership.

The launch was celebrated today at 93 3rd St., one of the first properties to be made available on the website. The Newark Land Bank properties will be open for applications at 8 tonight, after the Newark Land Bank Community Meeting at 6:30. Preregister for the meeting here.

Here are the basic details of the program.

The Land Bank will provide key programs for users to access and apply for property ownership. These programs include:

  • Section 8 Homeownership: This is where qualified Section 8 recipients may use their vouchers and down payment assistance to purchase single family homes. These properties are rehabilitated by local MWDBE contractors. Purchasers receive pre- and post-sale certified HUD homeownership counseling from local nonprofit partners.
  • Community Partners: Newark Land Bank believes that partnerships with Newark nonprofit, community development organizations, businesses and faith-based groups are essential. The program welcomes the opportunity to collaborate on projects that further the city’s plans, goals and initiatives for building sustainable neighborhoods and that are providing impactful wraparound services and are able to use Land Bank properties for new construction of affordable housing, urban gardening and green space projects. You can see additional information on how to apply to be a community partner here.
  • Buy Back: Allows responsible tenants an opportunity to remain in their homes if the landlord experiences foreclosure.
  • Donating Property: Newark Land Bank welcomes donations of unwanted houses or vacant land for reuse or resale under certain circumstances. Donated properties must have clear and marketable title and may not have delinquent taxes or open code violations.

Newark Land Bank’s inventory of available properties is always changing. Interested individuals can stay up-to-date on newly available properties by registering for a Newark Land Bank account here. All disposition decisions for properties, including selection of awarded applicants, will be published on the website.

But you must be qualified to buy.

Any qualified individual, family, partnership, nonprofit or corporation can purchase and develop a Land Bank property per specific program requirements and disposition policies. Primarily, properties are sold via online purchase applications and RFPs, though the Newark Land Bank also engages in development planning and associated dispositions with thoroughly vetted homebuyers, real estate developers and nonprofit community partners to achieve city and neighborhood goals.

Newark Land Bank requires at a minimum that the purchaser provide basic personal or business information, a feasible development plan for the property of interest where rehabilitation is required and proof of financing for the purchase or proposed development. In addition, all applications require a processing fee for submission. Program applications and RFPs enumerate specific requirements, such as application fees, First Time Homebuyer restrictions or income limits for the purchaser.

Baraka said the Land Bank can change the city.

“Today, we are making history as the city of Newark launches the state of New Jersey’s first Land Bank,” he said. “Our city’s new Land Bank initiative will help achieve one of the greatest of all American dreams for our residents — homeownership, in the form of affordable and market-rate housing.

“The city as a whole, will gain from the jobs created by construction and development on these sites, the tax ratables generated and the conversion of empty lots, abandoned buildings and blighted areas into empowered neighborhoods and communities. This has been a huge win for our city and a critical component of my administration’s comprehensive Newark Forward strategy.”

Invest Newark CEO Bernel Hall said the program will help improve equality in the city.

“This program is a powerful community wealth-creation tool that allows Newark residents to invest in their neighborhood while investing in themselves,” he said. “Equitable access to real estate is a crucial step in establishing an inclusive and equitable community and we are proud to continue bringing such opportunities to our residents.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) also cheered the event.

“As the lead sponsor of the legislation to permit land banking, I am excited to see the program go from policy to true progress,” she said. “It is an honor to work on behalf of our families in the city of Newark and to partner with Mayor Baraka on an endeavor that will be a game-changer for our neighborhoods. From empty lots to first-time homebuying opportunities, there is a wealth of possibilities here, which will undoubtedly uplift our communities and help revitalize our city.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Maplewood) agreed.

“The land banking bill became law in large part due to the tremendous, sustained advocacy of Mayor Ras Baraka, who is using this tool to turn Newark’s abandoned, vacant, blighted properties into safe, affordable homes and retail space,” she said.  “This development will create much-needed tax revenue, which will mean more municipal services and an improved quality of life for all Brick City residents. The opportunities of a Newark Reimagined are limitless, and I am honored to have played a role in creating this mechanism for sustainable, long-term change.”

Staci Berger, CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, is confident the program will work. She has seen it work before, she said.

“The Land Bank is going to be a major asset to the city of Newark in its post-COVID economic recovery efforts, and will help transform the lives of residents who need an affordable place to call home,” she said. “Under the leadership of Mayor Baraka, the city has paved the way for other places in the state that are struggling with vacant and abandoned properties.

“There are several places across the country that are utilizing land banks with great success — we are confident that Newark will be New Jersey’s own success story.”