CAMDEN, NJ. - Every school day, thousands of children come to Camden High School in this city’s Parkside neighborhood. Until recently, though, a cluster of abandoned buildings provided a sharp counterpoint to the center of learning across the street.
The crumbling buildings were landmarks in Parkside, a neighborhood struggling with blight and abandonment. Now, two affordable housing developers are working to turn the neighborhood around, and they’ve started by fixing up and expanding one of the buildings, the historic Pearlye Building, and knocking down the rest to create Faison Mews, an affordable housing development with 51 new apartments for low-income seniors.
Renovating the old apartment building is an obvious first step in stabilizing the neighborhood. As soon as they opened in May and June 2006, the apartments rented to neighborhood seniors, and the development has more than 50 names on its waiting list. Since the renovation, property values in the neighborhood seem to have finally stabilized.
“The abandonment has stopped,” said Charles Lewis, vice president of Pennrose Properties, LLC, a Philadelphia-based affordable housing developer.
Pennrose partnered to develop Faison Mews with Parkside Business and Community in Partnership, Inc., (PBCIP), a neighborhood nonprofit that has rehabilitated about 35 abandoned homes in the blocks around Faison Mews.
Although PBCIP already had possession of the Pearlye Building, it took three years and a lawsuit against the owner of a boarded-up apartment building on the site for the partnership to gather the land it needed for development. In 2005, the developers began construction on Faison Mews, named after Camden’s new mayor, Gwendolyn Faison. The redevelopment created 10 apartments in the Pearlye Building and built another 41 units in a new extension to the Pearlye, for a total of 51.
Faison Mews is designed to use less energy than conventional construction. The cost of gas heat at Faison Mews already appears to be 30 percent below the cost to heat a comparable conventional building. The structure also catches rainwater from its roof to water the gardens at the community, saving on the property’s water bill.
In total, green ideas like these added $250,000 to the cost to develop the $9 million project. New Jersey officials repaid that by increasing the soft financing they offered Faison Mews through the Balanced Housing Program to $2.5 million.
The development received about $5.9 million in LIHTC equity. Centerline Capital Group was the syndicator. The project also received $250,000 in soft financing from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York; $200,000 in soft financing from Camden’s HOME Funds; $99,229 from Pennrose’s deferred developer fee; and a $64,850 rebate from the federal Energy Star program.
The Pearlye Building, built in 1910, had been abandoned since the 1980s. “Even vacant, with the windows battered open and graffiti and everything, it still had a certain majesty,” Lewis said.
Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.
Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?
A. There are a number of reasons why Faison Mews is a unique development. First, it is a community-based initiative. Parkside Business and Community in Partnership, Inc. (PBCIP) is a nonprofit corporation founded by residents of the Parkside neighborhood in the city of Camden, N.J. An award-winning organization, PBCIP has spearheaded a number of planning and redevelopment efforts within the community. They identified a vacant multifamily building on a prominent intersection as a blighting influence. The building, however, was historically significant and a community landmark. Lacking experience in multifamily development, PBCIP joint-ventured with Pennrose Properties, a for-profit developer active in Camden.
The keystone of Faison Mews is the Pearlye Building. Constructed in 1910, the building fell on hard times during the 1970s, and was abandoned by the late 1980s. On the same block as the Pearlye, separated by three poorly maintained properties, was the Parkview Apartments. The Parkview was built in the early 1950s and consisted of four separate buildings. By the late 1990s, the apartments were vacant and in serious disrepair. The Partnership decided to combine the rehabilitation of the Pearlye Building and the Parkview Apartments to create a 51-unit project.
PBCIP acquired the three intervening properties, providing the Partnership with a tremendous opportunity. Instead of rehabilitating five separate buildings, the Partnership decided to demolish all but the Pearlye, and construct a 41-unit addition to the historic building. This provided several advantages over the original plan. First, all of the units would be in a single building. Second, the laundry facilities and the community room rooms would now be included in the single building. Third, elevator access could be provided to every unit, allowing them all to be handicapped-accessible or handicapped-adaptable. Finally, while the original plans contained no off-street parking, the Partnership was able to provide 32 off-street parking spaces in the new plan, as well as a drop-off area in front of the addition.
The Parkside neighborhood has one of the highest rates of homeownership in the city of Camden. As residents of the community aged, many of them found it hard to maintain their houses. There is a lack of decent, safe, affordable housing for seniors in the Parkside community; PBCIP saw the rehabilitation of the Pearlye Building as an opportunity to address this crying need.
Faison Mews has been a success on several levels. The redevelopment allowed a historically significant building to be saved. Vacant, deteriorating properties were replaced by an addition to the renovated Pearlye. Senior citizens were provided with much-needed housing. All of this was done using green building techniques, which provided energy savings for the residents and minimized the impact of the development on the environment.
The success of the Faison Mews redevelopment has been acknowledged by the housing and energy community. Faison Mews was one of eight projects selected to participate in the New Jersey Sustainable Development /Affordable Housing Pilot Program, and one of four designated as an exemplary project. In 2006, the development received the New Jersey Excellence in Housing Award for green/sustainable development.
Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?
A. Faison Mews is an excellent example of a green building. Because it is a redevelopment project in a well established neighborhood, there was no need to construct new infrastructure, or extend or create new utility lines. It is within walking distance of three churches, two supermarkets, and two city-owned parks. There are four bus stops within a half-mile of the site, providing service throughout Camden, its suburbs, Burlington County, and Philadelphia.
Faison Mews was developed under the New Jersey Sustainable Development/Affordable Housing Pilot Program, and was designated by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and Public Service Electric and Gas Company as an exemplary project. With funding provided by DCA and the technical assistance of the Green Homes staff, the Partnership was able to incorporate a number of green and/or sustainable features into this development.