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Newark’s demolition of South Ward housing project comes with promises of new development

Demolition of Newark’s long-vacant Seth Boyden Court housing complex is underway, more than seven years after its last resident was moved out. The 15-acre property in the South Ward will be transformed into new housing and commercial developments — serving as a redevelopment anchor for the neighborhood.

“Parts of the city that’s been this way for a long time, a lot of times get neglected as we develop other parts, mostly downtown so we want to go into the neighborhoods,” Mayor Ras Baraka said Thursday after he drove the first demolition crane through a hollowed out second-floor apartment.

“We want to do some development in those parts of the city because I think that’s the only thing that’s going to take us from where we are to where we need to be.”

Seth Boyden was Newark’s first federally-subsidized housing development, opened in 1939 after the Great Depression. Former residents who came to see the start of the demolition said the complex used to be diverse, housing generations of Black and Jewish families. Many raised their children here, met their best friends and held cook-outs with their families and neighbors.

“We had so much fun here. It was all about family living down in Seth,” said Lisa Williams, who lived at Seth Boyden for more than four decades.

But drugs and violence eventually found their way to the sprawling cluster of mid-rise apartments.

“It’s a lot of memories here. We lost a lot,” Williams, 65, said.

Some former residents carried red and white balloons to represent the people who died after the area became blighted by crime and violence, releasing them into the air as the brick walls from the housing complex were torn down.

The Newark Housing Authority began moving residents out of the 530-unit mid-rise building 10 years ago over safety concerns and high maintenance costs. The buildings shuttered in 2015 as part of a larger push by the housing authority to invest in single-family or voucher housing options instead of “superblock” low-income housing projects.

“These hallways and apartments can tell so many stories,” said Victor Cirilo, executive director of the Newark Housing Authority. Cirilo said Newark lent the NHA $4 million to demolish the property that was racking up complaints of illegal dumping. The NHA will use another $1.2 million of its funds to finish the work.

Once demolition is complete, the area will be turned into a mix of market-rate and affordable units and will include a health center and maybe even a movie studio. Boraie Development, which is building the new “Shaq Tower” along McCarter Highway, will be one of the developers.

Baraka said the project was an opportunity “to dream of a community that will be different.”

“This is the only community in Newark next to a golf course and people don’t understand that, the value of the neighborhood, a beautiful park next door,” he said.

The complex is next to Weequahic Park and South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James said he’s continuing to push to get a PATH extension in the neighborhood.

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