In 2009, the United States experienced arguably its most depressive economic period since the Great Depression. The U.S. housing bubble had burst and many individuals were forced to foreclose on their properties in their last desperate attempt to shed debt and cut costs. The effects of this economic downturn still have an effect today as many areas are still facing a rising number of foreclosures. The same can be said about local municipalities in South Jersey. However, evolving from the work of a few students from Rutgers – Camden, a new method of transforming these vacant properties into homes for potential buyers is being formed.
Three graduate students from the Department of Public Policy and Administration here at Rutgers – Camden are spearheading a pilot program under the direction of Mayor Jim Maley of Collingswood, New Jersey. Zachary Wood and Prentiss Dantzler, both Doctoral Candidates in the Public Affairs – Community Development program, and Jeanette Wiebush, a MPA student in the Community Development track, are currently designing a pilot program to kickstart bank-owned vacant properties that have been stuck in the foreclosure process back onto the market for potential buyers. Currently, these students are working with an extensive list of vacant properties from local municipalities including Collingswood, Pennsauken, Audubon, Oaklyn, Haddonfield, Haddon Township, and the Fairview section of Camden, NJ. They hope to have the pilot program designed by the end of the summer.
By collaborating with different municipalities, this team hopes to merge their academic experiences with practical strategic actions to enact change in these local communities. While in its early stages, this project has attracted a lot of attention from local media sources as well as housing affiliated organizations. The team has high hopes that this work may serve as a model for other areas nationwide to combat the growth of vacant, bank-owned properties. “What’s most exciting about this project is the collaboration of a diverse group of local leaders, realizing a common goal,” said Dantzler and Wood about the project. “We simply don’t see this kind of partnership across borders much, but that is exactly what makes this project unique, and we think there may actually be potential for the elusive win-win situation here.”