Collingswood and St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society take “first swing” at abandoned homes
The Borough of Collingswood partnering with the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society of Camden officially began work renovating abandoned homes in Collingswood with a “first swing” ceremony!
After months of legal proceedings Collingswood and the St. Joseph Carpenter Society are renovating abandoned homes in the Borough. Borough officials took a “first swing” to celebrate the start of interior demolition and remodeling of an abandoned home at 254 Harvard Avenue.
The event is the culmination of a year and a half of work and proceedings to gain access to abandoned homes through the statewide Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act. After the recession in the early 2000s, Collingswood, like municipalities nationwide, was left with dozens of abandoned homes that blighted neighborhoods and decreased property values. The Borough leined properties to require banks to provide basic maintenance, but the homes fell largely into disrepair and were stalled for years from being put on the market.
“These spaces were black holes. The banks have no urgency to make them productive and meanwhile, there are vermin and safety issues, they look awful and they are a burden to entire blocks,” said Collingswood Mayor James Maley. “And our hands were tied. All we could do was cut the grass and bill the banks. It was beyond frustrating getting calls from concerned residents and no response from banks. Eventually we had to figure out a way to take steps ourselves.”
Initially, Collingswood worked with a group of local towns ranging from Haddonfield to the Fairview section of Camden compiling abandoned home data with the hope of presenting banks with a significant portfolio of abandoned homes. When that plan failed to take root, Collingswood seized the opportunity to use New Jersey’s Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act which gives municipalities an option to take control of abandoned properties with a plan for rehabilitation. In early 2017, Collingswood finalized the legal process to gain access to a handful of abandoned properties and can now commence renovations.
Collingswood’s abandoned properties project will act like a revolving fund – as the first homes are rehabilitated and sold, Collingswood will use those profits to begin work on the next batch of homes. To complete the renovations, Collingswood is partnering with St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, a 30-year-old nonprofit that has renovated nearly 1,000 abandoned properties in Camden City. The first homes St. Joseph’s will rehabilitate are 254 Harvard Ave and 19 Lees Ave. Currently, Collingswood has about 40 target homes on its official list.
“Collingwood is a fantastic community and it doesn’t make sense to have these great homes sitting vacant. The Carpenter Society is excited to partner with Collingswood to bring our 30 years of experience in working on abandoned housing issues here to convert these homes back into suitable spaces for families to live and thrive,” said Pilar Hogan Closkey, Executive Director of Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society. “Abandoned homes have been casting a negative light on our South Jersey communities and being able to wrestle these homes free to rehab them and bring them back to life offers a new chance for these blocks to become whole again.”
An additional benefit of Collingswood’s proactive approach has been that several of the properties on the Borough list of abandoned homes have since been renovated privately, meaning that target homes are being rehabbed, sold and housing new residents without Borough intervention. If you know of a home that you think should be added to Collingswood’s abandoned homes list, please email the address to email@example.com.
“This is a huge step in taking care of a lingering problem that has plagued pretty much every town since the market crashed,” said Maley. “We want to see families in these homes giving back to the community and contributing to their neighborhoods. When a house falls into disrepair the way these have it casts a pall over the entire area. This project means a lot to every neighbor I talk to. They want to bring life back to their block.”
Collingswood is a historic NJ town 10 minutes outside Philadelphia. Known for its eclectic downtown and BYO restaurant scene it has taken home national recognition including being named a Top 10 Transformed Neighborhood by Forbes, the Best Place to Go Car Free by Men’s Journal magazine, a Classic Town of Greater Philadelphia by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a Great Place in America (Haddon Avenue) by the American Planning Association. For more information visit www.collingswood.com.
About St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society:
SJCS was founded in 1985 to help families improve their quality of life and to create safe neighborhoods through housing opportunities in East Camden, New Jersey. SJCS promotes successful homeownership through homeowner education, housing development, and community engagement. To date, SJCS has created nearly 1,000 homes, mostly converting abandoned houses into homes for families, with the intention of ridding the community of vacant and abandoned housing. Their neighborhood redevelopment work has now taken them to support South Jersey communities in this same mission. For more information, visit www.sjcscamden.org.