Camden officials confer on strategy to make use of ‘Promise Zone’ designation

 Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Mizra Orriols, left, joined by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, talks about how the city can best take advantage of its federal Promise Zone designation. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Mizra Orriols, left, joined by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, talks about how the city can best take advantage of its federal Promise Zone designation. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

For the first time since President Obama named Camden a ‘Promise Zone’ in April, officials gathered in one room near the waterfront to discuss how the designation could benefit the impoverished city.

“Finally, the sun is shining on Camden,” said Frank Moran, Camden city council president.

A city with Promise Zone status receives preference for certain federal grant programs as well as the possibility of collecting tax incentives.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will also hire a liaison to help state and local officials navigate the federal programs open to them.

“This is probably the hallmark of all the work we’ve done in Camden,” said Mayor Dana Redd.

“This is the opportunity that [Camden residents] have been waiting for. This helps them by helping their children to make sure that they’re graduating high school and either going into a career or going on to college. It’s working with our parents to make sure that they get the jobs that they’ve asked for for many years — for decades, quite frankly,” she said.

HUD will also send five AmeriCorps volunteers to each Promise Zone.

Monday’s meeting was meant to kick-start the process of applying for federal grants by bringing together federal, state, and local officials to discuss what Camden needs and how it might use the Promise Zone designation to get it.

So far, the city has no specific federal applications in progress as a Promise Zone, Redd said.

However, one such program that could benefit is Camden’s ConnectHome initiative, a local effort based on a federal program to increase high-speed broadband access and eliminate computer illiteracy in public housing.

“We need more computers, more laptops for our children,” implored Dr. Maria Marquez, executive director of Camden’s housing authority, at Monday’s meeting.

“We would like to see this done very soon,” she added.

That is the stated aim of HUD deputy regional administrator Mirza Orriols, who said the agency plans to hire Camden’s Promise Zone liaison, which means residents could begin to see changes soon.

“They’re going to start seeing a lot more jobs. They’re going to start seeing a lot more economic redevelopment. They’re going to start seeing a lot more homes being rehabbed, homes being built, a lot more affordable housing,” said Orriols. “All of the things the city of Camden needs to move forward.”

Camden is the first New Jersey city to become a Promise Zone.

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