Bridgeton seeks solution to abandoned properties problem Print


Published: Sunday, July 31, 2011
By Greg Adomaitis/The News of Cumberland County

BRIDGETON — No sooner was Mayor Albert Kelly addressing abandoned properties on Washington Street than he was attending a meeting in Trenton on the same subject.

Last week’s two-day Summer Institute for Community Leadership at the Marriott hotel in Trenton brought together city officials from across the state to address vacant and abandoned properties.

“We’re committed to improving our neighborhoods through the most current revitalization strategies available,” said Kelly.

Judging by their statements, residents of those neighborhoods would not oppose such improvements.

But, more on that later.

Municipalities invited to attend have demonstrated a pursuit of neighborhood revitalization programs.

Kelly was among officials from Millville, Jersey City, Newark, Irvington, Orange, Paterson, Camden, Perth Amboy and Trenton.

He said Bridgeton’s participation was key in “efforts to build stronger communities while adopting new tools and strategies as we collaborate with other urban cities facing similar challenges.”

July 27’s meeting was a partnership between the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (HCDNNJ), Center for Community Progress, New Jersey Community Capital, the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy and the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association.

Its goal in part was to devise a way of creating homes and jobs in areas that are both economically and environmentally viable.

“The crippling budgets that have put a squeeze on our cities are making community revitalization efforts that much harder,” said HCDNNJ Executive Director Diane Sterner.

The culprits that have caused the deterioration of housing conditions here and across the state are both broad and linked.

According to the Center for Community Progress (CCP), the foreclosure epidemic and recent economic downturn combined with an increase of abandoned and deteriorating properties may have slowed community progress and spread economic distress.

CCP, an organization that helps cities and states reform “problem properties,” hosted a similar weeklong meeting earlier this year at Harvard University.

Other problems identified by CCP were a decrease in value of neighboring homes, a loss in the tax base and increase in crime while costs to the municipality for upkeep while “civic morale suffers.”

Bridgeton does not necessarily exhibit all the symptoms, but...

“There are over 300 abandoned properties in the city,” Kelly said at a community meeting on July 21.

Residents who attended that meeting at the Alms Center brought up property concerns on South Pine Street and a closed gas station on Washington Street.

Kelly told residents he would keep tabs on the abandoned properties where the physical appearance was worsening. One of the topics tackled last week was upkeep of abandoned properties and how owners could be held liable.

“They can be vacant, but they don’t need to be an eyesore,” said Kelly.

Cities repossessing foreclosed properties and getting them into the hands of developers who could help was also discussed.

He noted a conversation with Orange city Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr. about a law that requires the owner of an abandoned property to maintain it.

Boarding up the windows and keeping grass and tree limbs in check were part of the responsibilities and Hawkins said it helped his situation.

A similar ordinance would need to be passed here by city council before any such moves could be taken.

Orange was also invited to the first meeting in mid-March. According to a statement on the city’s website, Hawkins says the rehabilitation or demolition of abandoned properties and replacing an aging public housing structure with a new neighborhood helped get his city recognized.

Kelly said others from around the country who attended offered their experiences and advice on what has worked for them.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,’’ he said. “It’s already been perfected.”