In July 2002, the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (MRERA) placed Camden, New Jersey, the poorest city in one of the richest states in the country, into receivership. The MRERA also initiated action by local and regional stakeholders, including large-scale redevelopment efforts, neighborhood revitalization projects, and policy initiatives to promote regional equity. Taken together, these efforts address goals both of growth and equality, aimed at expanding economic development and sharing more fully the benefits of development among residents of Camden and the region.
This paper, the second in a series of MDRC publications on the Camden redevelopment experience, offers a framework for understanding change among residents and housing markets in Camden and the South Jersey region. The indicators are identified from census, home mortgage lending, and labor market data and are reported for the 12 years leading up to the MRERA and the first five years afterward.
The report suggests that Camden offers an oasis of homeownership opportunities for low-income households but continues to lose residents overall. Even though poverty declined during the economic expansion of the late 1990s, far too many Camden households struggle to make ends meet. Meanwhile, home mortgage lending patterns suggest that lower-income households purchased more homes in the early to mid-2000s.
In contrast to Camden, outcomes for residents in the South Jersey region were favorable in terms of growth but less so in terms of socioeconomic equality. Despite an increase in total regional employment, the Camden labor force participation rate declined. On the other hand, nonwhite borrowers claimed a growing share of home purchases in the region. The region achieved moderate declines in segregation by race and in segregation by household income, with much room for improvement. However, subprime lending increased sharply in the mid-2000s, and low-income borrowers lost almost their entire share of home purchase capital investments.
The framework in this paper provides a way of understanding the economic gains of the 1990s and also the housing market dynamics of the early 2000s that contributed to the current economic crisis. The framework may also promote a way of understanding the effects of the current recession over time, and the path Camden and its region take toward recovery.