Dressed in a lime green button-down shirt, matching slacks and loafers — and a hard hat — Queen Latifah gripped a shovel and tossed dirt into a garden box of soil, smiling.
“I’m a little bit emotional that we got walls up, we got windows,” the rapper and actress said, standing in front of three-story plywood-skinned structures that will soon become townhouses.
On Tuesday, Latifah revisited her birthplace of Newark for a South Ward real estate development groundbreaking ceremony spearheaded by BlueSugar Corp., of which Latifah is co-president, alongside builders Life Assets Development and GonSosa Development.
Latifah — born Dana Elaine Owens at St. Michael’s Hospital — said she started looking to invest in the properties in 2006. The development project was revealed publicly in 2016, and construction was supposed to begin two years ago, but hurdles cropped up.
“It took a while, but we stayed with it and it changed and it morphed, and we stayed with what we needed to do, and the timing is right right now for this place to rise,” Latifah said, referring to the project’s name, RISE Living. The name, also an acronym for “Rita is Still Everywhere” is a tribute to her mother, Rita, a former Newark schoolteacher.
“I’m proud to be from here,” Latifah said, joined for the ceremony by New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and other leaders.
“I grew up around here playing in West Side Park, a block away,” Latifah reminisced. “My grandfather’s hardware store was blocked from here. I drove past this block. I saw what was needed on this block, houses that weren’t lived in. Some were really dilapidated, and so I thought, ‘Why not here?’ ”
Situated along Springfield Avenue outside of the city’s downtown, the 76-unit mixed-use project will include 20 three-family townhomes at market rate prices, with rents starting at $1,800 a month.
The need for affordable housing in Newark is dire. The Brick City needs an additional 16,000 low-rent units to meet the city’s demand, according to a 2021 study by the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality, and Metropolitan Equity. Nearly 60% of Newark renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than a third of their incomes on housing.
According to the study, an affordable rental unit for a Newark household costs $763 a month. That’s $330 less than the city’s median market rent, and $600 less than what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers the city’s fair market rent.
And researchers completed this study before the state’s COVID-spurred ban on evictions ended. Essex County had more than 19,000 pending eviction cases as of the end of March, and a large portion of those are estimated to be in Newark.
As Latifah spoke, pipes, construction equipment, and bulldozers filled the development plot, contained inside South 16th Street, South 17th Street, 19th Avenue, and Springfield Avenue. The Newark Art Museum has created a netted art installation around the chain-link fence that features portraits of local artists and others whom neighbors nominated.
A three-story building will house 16 affordable housing units for those earning less than 80% of the city’s median income, according to Alberto Goncalves, CEO of Life Assets. That is $55,950 for a one-person family, $63,950 for a two-person family, or $79,900 for a four-person household, according to 2021 HUD data.
The structure will also include 1,900 square feet for use by local nonprofits, as well as a fitness center, a business center, and electric vehicle charging stations.
Pre-leasing for the market-rate units is expected to begin in early July, with the townhouses expected to be completed between September and December, according to Tammy Hammond, vice president of BlueSugar Corp. The entire project is planned to be completed sometime in 2023, Goncalves said. Those interested can join the waiting list to tour units at riseliving.com.
Written by: Broadcast HipHop Network
Copyright ©2023 Broadcast HipHop Radio and Television Stations Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Broadcast HipHop Networks LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be republished, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.