Baraka aims to use housing to spur equity and economy

Mayor: Equitable cities are built on affordability

The numbers are impressive enough.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the city has set a marker to create or preserve 6,600 affordable homes in the next five years. This, after the city finished a five-year cycle in which it created or preserved 3,514 homes from 2015-2020.

Baraka, however, said his goals are about more than numbers and units. It’s about the ability of the average resident to get into one. That ability, he said, will lift everyone.

“An equitable city is built on the foundation of affordability,” he said. “Our new housing goals and the actions outlined to achieve them will help us ensure all Newark residents have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing and that our city continues to be a vibrant gateway to opportunity for all, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or immigration status.”

The announcement was part of what Baraka is calling Newark’s Equitable Recovery Summer. The bold affordable housing goals have been set to guide the city’s housing and development efforts over the next five years — including the allocation of American Recovery Plan funding.

The following are included in the effort:

  • Fund the creation or preservation of 6,600 affordable homes, prioritizing units affordable to Newarkers making less than 30% of the area median income;
  • Support 1,500 new and 200 existing low- and moderate-income homeowners;
  • Convey all of the vacant properties currently held by the city or Land Bank, which are suitable for residential development and not currently under residential development agreements — with at least 30% of the units developed on these sites affordable to residents making at or below 80% AMI;
  • Support 10,000 vulnerable or unsheltered households annually;
  • Add 3,000 new housing units (market rate and affordable) across all five wards, ready for residents to move in.

The goals were developed through a Housing Working Group convened by Baraka, with more than 30 representatives from community-based organizations, nonprofits, developers, housing advocates, private companies, municipal departments, the Newark Housing Authority and Invest Newark.

The working group, led by the Office of Affordable and Sustainable Housing with support from Bloomberg Associates, worked over the past eight months to review the city’s past housing efforts, understand current programs, and create quantitative housing affordability targets to meet the vision of Newark Forward.

The working group’s efforts were guided by Homes Beyond Reach: An Assessment and Gap Analysis of Newark’s Affordable Rental Stock, released in February by the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity. The report, co-authored by working group member David Troutt, detailed the affordability gaps in Newark’s rental stock, as well as input and recommendations from the city’s Equitable Growth Commission.

Newark Deputy Mayor Allison Ladd, who serves as the director of economic and housing development, thanked the working group for creating what she called bold but achievable goals.

“Their work sets a clear direction for Newark and will shape our collective housing efforts as we recovery from the pandemic and reinvest in our communities,” she said. “The housing goals provide a roadmap to ensure we maximize funding from the American Rescue Plan, Treasury Emergency Rental Funds and American Jobs Act, as well as state and local sources, to meet the needs of Newark’s most vulnerable residents.”

Baraka recently launched several initiatives that will help achieve the announced targets, including a $20 million investment to support the creation of units affordable by Newark families earning $32,000 or less and more than $14 million in Emergency Rental Assistance to help Newarkers impacted by COVID-19 pay their rent and utilities.

The affordable housing goals are the sixth announcement in a package of recovery initiatives that Baraka is launching as part of the Equitable Recovery Summer, including:

  • Two-year Equitable Economic Recovery Plan;
  • Affordable Newark, a $20 million investment in affordable housing for low-income residents;
  • “Back Together Again,” a series of community solidarity events;
  • Accelerated and expanded Third Round $14 Million Emergency Rental Assistance Program;
  • Expanded small business emergency assistance;
  • A one-stop portal updated in real-time of available affordable housing;
  • Additional neighborhood redevelopment designations;
  • NewarkGo, a low-cost transportation pilot using dockless bikes and e-scooters.

Adam Freed, principal with Bloomberg Associates, applauded Baraka and the announcement.

“Prior to the pandemic, cities across the country were struggling to maintain their affordability. COVID-19 and the ensuing economic impacts have only deepened this challenge,” he said. “The goals adopted by Mayor Baraka and the work of the Housing Working Group set a bold and transparent direction for Newark and are a national model for data-driven, inclusive action to achieve a more equitable and affordable city.”