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By Journalist Ms. Jones
NEWBURGH – On Monday, September 12, community members expressed their opinions during the public hearing portion of the city council meeting concerning the proposed site development agreement with Kearney Realty & Development Group Inc. for the transfer and redevelopment of Urban Renewal land on Montgomery Street. The land is located across the street from Horizons on the Hudson Elementary School, formerly called Montgomery Street School.
“So, we will ask any and everyone who wants to speak about the site agreement that the city council is considering for a vote, and it probably will come very soon… because we want to hear from the public,” said Mayor Torrance Harvey. “We want to do responsible development in the city.”
Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson gave background on the site development agreement with Kearney Realty & Development Group Inc. for their proposed project at the site. The proposed project is a mixed-use structure consisting of residential units that would meet 40, 60, 80, and 100% of the average median income for Orange County. There would be retail spaces and a business incubation retail space available for a City of Newburgh business that would have a fixed annual rent for a fixed period of time and renewal increases that would be limited in size. There will be green space, on site property management, and local hiring. For families that were displaced due to Urban Renewal, there is a Right to Return Provision.
“Within the confines of the Federal Housing laws and non-discrimination laws, there is a preference for the residential units to be given to individuals who reside within three square miles of the project area and can demonstrate that they had one or more ancestor and a direct line of descendancy who had owned property that was later acquired by the Newburgh Urban Renewal Agency or the subject of [an]Urban Renewal Enlightened Disposition Agreement… So, they would get the first priority… Then, there would be a secondary priority for someone who would meet either… of those two requirements…. So, this is one step in trying to address some of the consequences and the adverse impacts of Urban Renewal in the City of Newburgh,” said Kelson.
All interested speakers were given five minutes to comment. There were some of the Mayor’s Strategic Economic Development Advisory Committee Members at the hearing. They included Jerry Maldonado, Kathy Lawrence, and Chairman Bill Fioravanti.
“There was a guarantee of long-term affordability of proposing a 50-year regulatory agreement that would ensure that the neighborhood remains economically and racially integrated over time, that families won’t get priced out of the neighborhood as the market changes…[Kearney is] proposing 7,000 square feet of commercial [space]. Of course, we want that job creation commercial activity. That’s important in that area…They are going to subsidize one of the commercial spaces significantly below market rate rent over several years to support the growth of a local woman or minority-owned business as part of this project,” said Fioravanti.
Committee Member Maldonado stressed the housing crisis in Newburgh. People need places to live.
“The Kearney Project would add over 100 new affordable workforce housing units to the city over the next two years…It would actually stimulate our economy by bringing in new jobs, creating new commercial businesses, and expanding our tax base…The public sector caused harm. We have the ability to actually address that harm. But that actually requires us doing something. We can’t just allow things to stay vacant and abandoned and empty because in the meantime, families have housing crises right now. They need a place to live. They need jobs and it’s our responsibility as a community to rise to this moment and to actually address it. That means we have some hard things to do. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a real history that needs to be addressed. It’s got to be done in partnership,” said Maldonado.
Many attendees were descendants of people displaced during 1962 to 1974 when 120 acres of waterfront land was cleared for redevelopment and many African American homes, churches, and businesses were demolished.
“There wasn’t anybody from Urban Renewal, suffering from Urban Renewal, connected to it on this [committee]… Decisions are being made about this land… That was Newburgh’s Black Wall Street. When you ride past those grassy knolls and those hills over there you’ll see what used to be businesses and homes… that were owned by Black folks. Urban Renewal was a racist, white supremacist policy from the federal government… to get rid of every black downtown,” said Corey Allen, Neighborhood Revitalization Specialist for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, whose family was affected by Urban Renewal. “My grandfather had a store down there… It was a storefront with two floors… If his store was down there, right now today, the value of that would be crazy in today’s market. What are we getting back? So, I liked the plan so far, but I believe there needs to be more input from our group… Why hasn’t anyone come to us… instead of appointing people and putting them on the board just to be putting them on there… When it comes to reversing what happened, that land down there, had that been passed down to me, my grandfather’s store, I’d probably be a millionaire right now if I wanted to sell it right now. And we want to develop one that’s like the one developed on top of the bones on Broadway? On top of the bones of Black people on the courthouse and never look back?”
Most people affected by Urban Renewal were not interested in renting. They wanted to hear about ownership.
“Urban Renewal was about taking Black folks’ land away from them… They got a penny on the dollar for the land that was taken from them,” said Ray Harvey.
After the general public spoke, the City Council was given time to share their thoughts. Councilman Omari Shakur gave Newburgh a call to action.
“Look at that board that they picked. How many of them are Native Newburghers and how many of them were impacted… How’s somebody gonna come to our community and tell us what we want to do in our community… We as a community, what are we going to do about it… If we can’t work here, nobody can work here. If we can’t live here, nobody can live here… They stole it back then, and they’re stealing it now… We were 70% landowners, now we’re 70% renters,” said Councilman Shakur who had a grandmother with a business there. “Look at all the people working in your community on this project. [There’s] nobody from your community and nobody looks like you… You got to stand up. These people are taking your community from you right in front of your face… We can talk about it. But if you ain’t willing to fight for it, don’t say nothing!”