Housing officials from five New Jersey cities have been selected to participate in a four-day gathering at Harvard University that begins Tuesday and will focus on turning vacant properties into new housing.
The officials are from Newark, Jersey City, Orange, Irvington and Millville. Officials from only four states were invited to join the meeting in Cambridge, Mass., which is sponsored by the Center for Community Progress, a national organization that specializes in the reuse of abandoned and problem properties in cities and towns.
"New Jersey’s cities can help advance our state’s economic recovery by reusing vacant and abandoned properties,” Diane Sterner, director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said Monday. “Productive use of these spaces will increase property tax revenue, lower crime, and make our cities more vibrant places. Through this initiative, community developers and local officials can learn from each other and counter parts around the country.”
The Center for Community Progress, in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates will provide training and technical assistance on a variety of land reform concepts. The gathering will specific strategies to gain control over and redevelop abandoned properties. Taking into account the challenges with public policy in this area, the training sessions will include a specific focus on the leadership roles that state and local officials must play to making productive reuse and revitalization happen.
The New Jersey cities were selected due to what is described as their commitment to neighborhood revitalization strategies. These cities have taken steps to improve their communities and have been eager to adopt new tools and strategies.
"This leadership institute aims to develop stronger community development organizations and more informed municipalities that are poised to tackle the problems of vacant and abandoned properties in their communities in new ways” Wayne Meyer, president of New Jersey Community Capital, said. “We believe that the future of our cities relies on developing the capacity of our local government and nonprofit partners. We are pleased to partner with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, the Urban Mayor’s Association, and the Center for Community Progress to leverage resources, share experiences, and collaborate to stabilize our communities.”
Following the Harvard session, Community Progress staff will visit each city to work with local governments and community leaders in applying new ideas from the leadership institute to their locales.
"I'm looking forward to engaging with other governmental and nonprofit leaders from around the country to learn and share information on how we deal with Irvington's problem property challenges," Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, president of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, said. "The plight of abandoned properties is urban America's greatest challenge."
The Housing and Community Development Network is building an ongoing statewide working group to help local governments implement strategies, as well as identify and support changes to state policies with respect to abandoned and problem properties.
"Abandoned properties have long been obstacles to urban revitalization," Barbara George Johnson, director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy of Thomas Edison State College, said. "Cities must have good public policy to provide them with the leverage they need to make properties and neighborhoods whole and attractive to families and businesses."
The Center for Community Progress is a non-profit group with offices in Flint, Mich., Washington, D.C. and New Orleans dedicated to revitalizing and reinventing American cities.
To learn more, please visit www.communityprogress.net. For more information on the Housing and Community Development Network, visit: www.hcdnnj.org. To learn more about New Jersey Community Capital, visit: www.newjerseycommunitycapital.org.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM