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Fuentes, Ramos & Watson Coleman Bill to Attract Middle-Class Back into Cities Released by Assembly Panel

Camden, Jersey City & Trenton Would be First to Join Pilot Program

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Angel Fuentes, Ruben J. Ramos Jr. and Bonnie Watson Coleman sponsored to aid in the revitalization of declining neighborhoods in Camden, Trenton and Jersey City was released Monday by an Assembly committee.
The Neighborhood Scholar Revitalization Pilot Program (A-3223) would establish a pilot program in Camden, Trenton, and Jersey City to try to attract recent college graduates to enter into a two-year commitment to settle within targeted residential neighborhoods.
“The migration of the middle-class from the cities to the suburbs started a painful cycle of poverty, neglect and blight that continues to deter reinvestment,” said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “A pilot program specifically designed to attract recent college graduates to targeted areas in cities may be a key component to their revitalization.”
“A root cause of urban blight is the loss of the municipal tax base,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “Attempts to revitalize urban areas through redevelopment projects and other programs have been met moderate success in business districts, but less success within declining residential neighborhoods. We need to try something new.”
“Reimbursing a portion of a college graduate’s student loans in return for a commitment to move into a targeted residential neighborhood for a period of at least two years is a sound idea that deserves consideration,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We’ve tried many programs and seen some success with business areas, but we still need to bring the middle-class back into cities if we’re to truly revitalize our urban areas.”
The three initial cities that will participate in the pilot program are Camden, Trenton, and Jersey City. The cities would be responsible for identifying the targeted residential neighborhoods, although those neighborhoods would have to be primarily residential and located in a census tract in which the median household income is 60 percent or less of the median income for the housing region in which the census tract is located, as determined for a three-person household by the Council on Affordable Housing in accordance with the latest federal decennial census.
Each of the three cities participating in the pilot program would be eligible to offer up to 200 qualified graduates a financial incentive to agree to maintain their primary residence within a targeted residential neighborhood for a period of at least 24 months.
To qualify for participation in the program, a graduate would need a degree from a two- or four-year accredited institution of higher education and proof of outstanding student loan indebtedness of at least $7,000. At the end of the required residency period, the program participant would be reimbursed a total $7,000 towards their student loan obligations.
This pilot program would be administered by the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority because businesses that already receive tax credits under the urban enterprise zone program would be entitled to receive additional tax credits for contributions made to the Neighborhood Scholar Revitalization Student Loan Reimbursement Fund established by the bill.
This would assist UEZ businesses in recruiting highly educated workers by offering the student loan reimbursement program as an additional perk.
Monies from each pilot municipality’s urban enterprise zone assistance fund account could be transferred into the Neighborhood Scholar Revitalization Student Loan Reimbursement Fund for the purpose of funding student loan reimbursements.
At the end of three years, the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, in consultation with the Commissioner of Community Affairs, would be required to report to the Governor and Legislature on the success of the pilot program and make recommendations regarding either the expansion or termination of the pilot program.
The bill was released by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.