The Queen Is Back to Save Brick City
Hip-hop icon and Brick City native Queen Latifah is returning to her hometown of Newark, NJ to help break ground on a historic multi-family affordable housing project. The new development will cost $14 million and is scheduled to break ground this summer.
Latifah, who was born in Newark and raised in the community of East Orange, has always embraced her Jersey roots. Having so much pride in her stomping grounds, she felt that she needed to give back.
“There was a lovely woman who lived across the street on 17th Street who would grow sunflowers, and to me, she was my inspiration,” Latifah told NJ Advance Media. “And this woman, like I said, would grow these sunflowers every year, and these beautiful flowers would grow on the property. And for me, I see it as the roses that come from the concrete.” Now Latifah’s growing her own roses out of Newark’s concrete in the form of affordable housing.
For over a decade, Latifah has worked hard to keep her vision of comfortable, spacious, and affordable housing at the corner of Springfield Avenue and South 17th Street alive. She’s faced obstacles like a housing bubble burst and great recession, a protracted land acquisition process, and finally the coronavirus pandemic - but per the Queen herself, “The worse that can happen is you fail, but guess what: You get up and try again. Feel that pain, get over it, get up, dust yourself off, and keep it moving.” And that’s exactly what she did.
New Jersey’s Affordable Housing Crisis
Latifah wanted to invest in this project to address the need for affordable housing in Newark, where more than 20,000 families paid over 50% of their income for rent according to a 2017 study conducted by Rutgers University. The current median household income in Newark is $37,000. Newark faces a severe affordable housing stock for low-income residents, and new development projects like hers help set a precedent for how these projects can be executed moving forward.
The project was initially proposed as two mixed-income buildings with more affordable housing, totaling 115 units. But the developer was denied the low-income tax credit by the state, so the focus shifted to include more market-rate housing in which rents will start at $1,800 a month.
Specs of New Development
The project includes 20 three-family townhomes and a three-story mixed-use building with an additional 16 units. The current design concept includes a fitness center and 1,900 sq. ft. of commercial space that will be rented out for nonprofit use. The 60 units in the townhouses will be set at market rate, and the 16 units in the building will be set aside for affordable housing units.
“Today’s Newark is stirring again, stirring because our greatest export was never a product, it’s always been the people. People like each of you, unique, strong, creative individuals," Latifah said.
Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, and the 60 units of market-rate housing were expected to be finished in December 2020 but are still under construction. The mixed-use building will be completed later in 2021.