Partnerships Mean Progress On Abandoned And Vacant Properties

By Frank Sinatra, AAP Editor

With this year’s strong push to tackle the issue of abandoned and vacant properties throughout Pennsauken, the Township announced that in just a few months, 51 properties have already been removed from the official abandoned/vacant property list. Some have been taken off because residency has been confirmed; others have transitioned to rental properties. Most encouragingly, several homes have already sold with more to come, thanks to the Township’s partnership with the Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society and the Pennsauken Housing Agency.

“We’ve got great partnerships with several organizations that are helping us tackle the abandoned and vacant property issue,” says Pennsauken Mayor John Kneib. “By working together, we can do even more to continue to reduce the number of these types of properties in our community.”

As of last month, Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society, the local non-profit that helps families improve their quality of life and works to create safe neighborhoods through homeownership, had been working on three homes in town. The first of the three properties, located on 42nd St., went to settlement on July 22; the new owners have already moved in and started to unpack boxes.

“We were very excited to work with Pennsauken on this. This is a gorgeous block,” says Pilar Hogan-Closkey, executive director of St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society. “We were able to purchase it from a bank that had taken it through foreclosure. This is wonderful, because we’re putting someone back into a block that’s gorgeous to walk down. They’re very excited to have just moved in.”

“St. Joe’s has a long history of doing great things in the communities that they work in. We’re really excited to have this partnership,” adds Tracey Howarth, the Township employee spearheading Pennsauken’s efforts to tackle abandoned and vacant properties. “We’re looking forward to having many more properties being taken over, rehabbed, and sold. The ultimate goal is to get occupancy in each one of our homes. We want to make sure they’re stable homes and they’re well renovated. And Saint Joe’s is absolutely the partner to do that with.”

Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society is continuing to work with the Township to identify additional houses to target.

“We like to build on a lot of the positive energy that’s already happening in some of these neighborhoods,” explains Hogan-Closkey. “We identify which is going to be the right house, and see if it is something that we are able to get ourselves by reaching out to the homeowner or bank. We go through an acquisition process, where we walk through the house to make sure there are things we can all take care of and live with. Then we do a whole gut rehab in coordination with Pennsauken’s inspection team. In the meantime, we’ll be listing the houses, trying to find buyers, and working to bring the house and the families together at the same time.”

The Township is also taking its own steps to address the abandoned and vacant housing issue through the Pennsauken Housing Agency (PHA).

“The PHA is an organization that falls under the Township umbrella,” says Elwood Martz, housing administrator for the Pennsauken Housing Agency. “The mission of the agency is to maintain and improve the housing stock in town through acquiring and reselling homes.”

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Tracey Howarth, the Pennsauken Township employee in charge of tackling the abandoned and vacant home issue, and Pennsauken Mayor John Kneib talk with Elwood Martz, housing administrator for the Pennsauken Housing Agency.

The PHA takes on about two to three homes each year. They are currently working on a home along Cove Rd. by Hollinshed.

“The property had been vacant for two years. We were able to acquire it and we’re in the final stages of rehabbing it,” explains Martz. “We’re going to put it on the market and sell it for a fair market value. Hopefully there’ll be family in here by the end of summer.”

In addition to the homes they are currently rehabbing, Martz went on to say that the PHA works closely with Howarth and Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society to address even more homes.

“We’re working together as a team to put a dent in these abandoned and vacant homes in the town.”

Between the Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society and the Pennsauken Housing Agency, there are at least five to six additional homes that are being looked at as potential projects.

“We’re taking full advantage of the resources available to us,” says Mayor Kneib. “Pennsauken is a great town for families. We’re doing what we can to make sure that there are good, quality homes that they can move into.”

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