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Pennrose Nears Opening of All-Affordable Apartment Building in Newark

Bisnow September 14, 2018

A new affordable housing development is nearly ready to replace the infamous Brick Towers in the Central Ward of Newark.

Philadelphia-based developer Pennrose expects to complete the five-story, 154-unit Aston Heights by the end of the year, with leasing anticipated to begin at some point this October. The units will all be rentals restricted to tenants making 60% or less of the area median income for Essex County.

A total of 105 units will be reserved for individuals and families making at most 60% AMI, with the rest set aside for tenants making 50% AMI, Pennrose Regional Vice President for New Jersey Jacob Fisher said. The development is being built on land owned by the Newark Housing Authority through a ground lease agreement.

Newark has been undergoing a transition from decrepit public housing projects to more modern, but smaller, mixed-income developments over the past several years, raising questions about how much such projects really fight against displacement.

“When public housing at a high density is demolished, there’s now a thinking that one-to-one replacement is the goal, so you don’t have people displaced," Fisher said. "But the interesting thing that we’ve seen over time doing dozens of these redevelopments is that people who are residents of the community are given a voucher to relocate elsewhere in the city or outside the city, and when they have the opportunity to return, we only get a 30-35% rate of return. That’s just based on experience.”

Aston Heights doesn't quite fit that model, as Brick Towers was privately owned for years by a landlord that severely neglected the property before it was taken over by the NHA. By the time it became a public housing project, it was already beyond repair and was demolished in 2008.

Pennrose was brought on to redevelop the land in 2010, but, as is commonplace in affordable housing, took seven years to put together financing before it was able to break ground last May. The project applied to, but did not receive, a 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit years ago, and was subsequently rejected from participating in Hurricane Sandy recovery financing and the New Jersey Economic Redevelopment and Growth program.

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