How Newark promotes women, minority developers

Developer Eugenia Hamlett’s latest building is a six-family unit on South 18th Street in Newark. She gave NJTV News a tour of the two-bedroom apartments with decks on the back.

Hamlett is among eight developers, including women and minorities, chosen to makeover abandoned properties, vacant lots and dilapidated houses in Newark. They’re tasked with turning eye sores into eye catchers in the city’s West Ward Neighborhood Development Plan, a 21-block area of numbered streets.

Mayor Ras Baraka says the small developers are eager to redevelop areas that downtown developers ignore. To the developers’ private sector financing, the city adds land at low cost, grants, subsidies, and even know how for entrepreneurs who see behind the urban blight and all that comes with it.

“I see opportunity. I want to say when we first started in the West Ward in 2016, we bought our first two properties and we had constant break-ins. And I remember telling my husband, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ But since then, we’ve had the police help us with the break-ins. They tell us what to do. We put in cameras. And I will tell you, from 2016 to now in 2020, we’re doing work and we don’t even need the cameras,” Hamlett said.

The mayor says he knows the challenges women and minority developers face in the industry. Jamillah Muhammad of Rising Plains, who’s building homes on South 16th Street, says discouragement and doubt greet women developers.

“There are people, there are obstacles out there that make it harder,” she said. “You have the males who don’t think the women should be here, ‘that’s not what women should be doing,'” Muhammad said.

Muhammad says opportunity and completed projects prove them wrong. It comes at the right time for a city eager to erase the notion that nobody cares about the areas so nobody invests.

“What we know is that our properties that we have in the city of Newark have value and can be transformed into neighborhood assets. And what we want is our women-owned companies, our minority-owned developers and our residents, those that are really the heartbeat of our city, we want them to continue to grow with the city and that they’re able to be part of economic growth that is happening in Newark,” said Allison Ladd, Newark Economic and Housing Development director.

Ladd, who is also the deputy mayor, says the city plans to expand the program beyond the West Ward.

The mayor says the opportunities mean housing, jobs and better neighborhoods for Newark residents. It also presents opportunities for women and minority developers to build homes and build their businesses.

“For the mayor to believe in us to be able to do this, this is priceless. This is huge for us,” Hamlett said.