OAKWOOD PLAZA REVITALIZATION
Former Oakwood Plaza Community
Oaks at Westminster
Originally built in the 1960’s as an upscale rental community, Oakwood Plaza consisted of six (6), five (5)-story buildings, totaling 357 units. Located in the heart of the City of Elizabeth, known as Historic Midtown, the property encompasses a distinct 10-acre triangle that fronts along Irvington Avenue (an active city street), Parker Road, a residential street shared by the City’s Westminster neighborhood, (the most prestigious residential area in the City) and backs along the Elizabeth River.
Historic Midtown is a Transit Village, Smart Growth neighborhood and is a formally designated Redevelopment Area. It holds the City’s central business district, the County seat, and is the transportation hub for the region. Over the last ten years the City and its stakeholders have worked hard to revitalize the community, spurring redevelopment, housing options and employment opportunities.
Referenced in the 2009 Historic Midtown Elizabeth Plan for Community Revitalization, Oakwood Plaza had experienced tremendous decline and became one of the State’s most deeply challenged housing projects over the last two decades.
Drugs, gangs, and gunfire were frequent occurrences at the troubled property. The design of the existing buildings, with common hallways and stairwells, made the buildings difficult to manage. The overall site layout poorly connected the buildings to each other and the surrounding neighborhood blocks, providing little distinction between the front and back, resulting in a lack of orientation from both within and outside the site, creating an oppressively homogeneous and indefensible environment.
The social distress of Oakwood Plaza became detrimental to the quality of life and economic value in the surrounding neighborhood.
In 2009, the property was put up for sale by the prior owner, and, encouraged by the City of Elizabeth, Community Investment Strategies (CIS), purchased Oakwood Plaza with the goal of replicating the very successful HOPE VI revitalization of the Elizabethport neighborhood, where CIS was the designated developer. The acquisition was the first step of a major revitalization of this project and was a joint effort between the City of Elizabeth, Union County Improvement Authority, and CIS.
CIS, working in close coordination with its design and development team, which included Kitchen & Association and Maser Engineering, met with residents, local stakeholders, and city officials, to gather important information about the existing project and discuss various approaches to the redevelopment and its impact on the residents and neighborhood. The original plan was to demolish all 6 buildings and rebuild low rise town-over-flat apartments and reduce the overall density of the site. To accomplish this, a large part of the funding would include DCA subsidy of $20 million. Due to budgetary constraints, however, only $4 million in DCA subsidy was realized. This caused a substantial funding gap and sent the team back to the drawing board.
The most significant challenge of the Revitalization was the bifurcation of the existing Project-Based Section 8 contract. CIS was breaking new ground with HUD and it was a complicated process that required the collaboration of many great minds at HUD, CIS, and with attorneys, lenders, and syndicators. The original HAP contract was for 357 units and CIS was completing the redevelopment in separate, individual phases while reducing the total number of units, so each time the financing was put together, new HUD approvals had to be sought to bifurcate that phase from the existing HAP contract.
It could not have been done without the hard work and tenacity of the HUD team, including Walter Kreher and Dean Santa. Overall, the site was reduced to 300 apartments. The unit mix was reconfigured to increase the number of 3-bedroom apartments to allow for larger families. In total, there are 56 one-bedroom, 180 two-bedroom, and 64 three-bedroom units. Residents pay 30% of their income towards rent and fall below 50% the area median income (AMI).
Residents have access to social services and participate in various activities and programs. Engaging our residents builds rapport with them and creates lasting relationships. Financial literacy, computer training, healthy living initiatives, including health screenings, vaccinations, and cooking demonstrations are just a few of the activities residents enjoy on-site. The onsite clubhouse is also used for neighborhood activities including job fairs, health fairs, and community get-togethers. The on-site porter is also a resident of the community. She and her family are a great asset. It helps to foster a caring environment in which the management staff and residents are team.
Fifteen (15) apartments have been set aside for supportive housing. Partnering with the YWCA of Elizabeth, CIS has made it priority to house victims of domestic violence. The YWCA program provides vital housing resources and social services for woman of domestic violence, many of which are homeless. This program has been a huge success at the community. Providing a safe home starts them on a new path and receiving social services and job training helps them to reclaim their lives.
Residents have access to major employment centers in Midtown including, Kean University, Union County College, and Trinitas Hospital, with IKEA and Newark Liberty Airport are close by. Locally, there are over 400 thriving businesses including retail establishments, restaurants, and professional offices. There are numerous parks, recreation centers, and after-school programs. Access to and from the neighborhood is easy with ample bus stops and a major train station just blocks away.
The Oakwood Revitalization transformed a distressed area into a vibrant community and has positively impacted the entire neighborhood.
Rehabilitation / New Construction
300 Affordable Rental Units
Ownership: CIS Owned and Managed
Project Complete 2018
Total Investment: $79.5M
Development Partners and Funding Sources:
Tax Credit (LIHTC) Equity, City and County HOME/RCA Funds, HACE RHF Funds, FHLB, UCIA Bonds, NJHMFA, Permanent Financing, NRTC, EDA ERG Tax Credit Equity, Deferred Developer Fee