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By Journalist Ms. Jones
NEWBURGH – Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines Urban Renewal as “a construction program to replace or restore substandard buildings in an urban area.” Last Saturday, community members met at the Boys and Girls Club to discuss Urban Renewal in Newburgh.
“Our folks were pushed out. There’s a reason why you’re poor. We look around at every other community we see. They have business centers. They have homes, thriving, bustling neighborhoods. You don’t see nobody outside shooting each other. They ain’t outside selling drugs on Friday, because they own and control everything,” said Corey Allen, Neighborhood Revitalization Specialist for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, who led the meeting.
From 1962 to 1974 approximately 120 acres of waterfront land in Newburgh was cleared for redevelopment. This displaced a huge African American population. Hundreds of homes, neighborhoods, businesses, and churches were destroyed.
“Before Urban Renewal we were 70%homeowners. After Urban Renewal we are 70% renters. They took away our economic base. Not only did they do that in Newburgh, they did that in 100 communities across the country at the same time. So, once they took away our economic base, basically we’re economic slaves again because we don’t have no financial resources in our community. They took away all of our businesses. Now if you look there’s maybe four or five Black businesses. So where do we go from here? What is our next step to get our community involved and make sure anything that is done with that land going forward, that the people whose families were impacted by the Urban Renewal, share whatever resources are made on that land that was impacted,” said Councilman Omari Shakur.
There will be monthly meetings to discuss reparations for displaced and destabilized victims of Urban Renewal in Newburgh via a Right to Return Policy with funding for victims and their families. The policy would include the first rights for jobs as well as ownership for families and their ancestors for anything built on the East End Historic District. There is Urban Renewal land behind Horizons on the Hudson Elementary School, formerly called Montgomery Street School. It spans from across the street from the school where the houses end on Montgomery Street to South Street and South Street to the Bourne Apartments.
“[There were] homes and stuff on this land. They bulldozed it…Now… the City of Newburgh recently… released… RFPs, Request for Proposals, to have this land turned it into something. They narrowed their choices down to two developers [Kearney Group and Mistral Properties],” said Allen who is encouraging people to join the Strategic Economic Development Advisory Council, Zoning Boards, and Planning Boards. Both companies want to develop the land with stores and apartments.
There was a grant written in 2020 by Elka Gotfryd, former City Planner, for $50,000 funded by National Park Services called the African American Civil Rights Grant. The three deliverables for the grant are to document oral histories of people affected by Urban Renewal, historic preservation, and putting the Urban Renewal history into the K-12 curriculum in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District.
“Five youth were hired from the Orange County Summer Youth Employment Program and they’re working to do the interviews,” said Nick Edward, Neighborhood Stabilization Coordinator for the City of Newburgh, who helped facilitate the meeting. “So, we’re trying to take hold of this history to kind of teach it to people so that they know about it, and to educate the generations moving forward about what happened down here because a lot of people don’t know about what happened all throughout here. For example, the nine streets in Newburgh that are underneath the ground right now that are nonexistent. A lot of people don’t know about that. Including Hudson Street, Broad Street, the real Colden Street, Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Barclay Street, High Street. A lot of people don’t know about those streets in Newburgh. And how some of the streets used to literally run all the way down to the waterfront.”