Case Study

Ablett Village in Camden, NJ

6 min read

Affordable Housing Boosts a City’s Transformation

Ablett Village is a Camden, NJ public housing project that dates way back. In fact, it has roots in both World Wars, named after a local soldier who died in World War I and used, on its completion in 1943, as housing for World War II war effort workers.

But with age, the units have fallen into rampant disrepair and now The Michaels Organization, based in Camden, recently started the second of five phases of a $145 million redevelopment, planning 55 seniors-only apartments for the site in Camden’s Cramer Hill section.

The units include 47 one-bedrooms and eight two-bedrooms. The development will be on the corner of Harrison Ave. and 24th St. and called Cramer Hill Senior. Some market-rate units will be offered.

“A community and management space, gym and dedicated exam rooms for Virtua Health and visiting nurses from the Rutgers School of Nursing will be available for residents,” according to Michaels.

The development, the oldest existing public housing project in Camden, home now to 600 residents, attracted a lot of contemporary interest from local newspapers in 1943, when it opened.

Ablett Village had 23 buildings and 306 units, which included both houses and apartments. Move-in day was April 1, 1943, and according to a local paper, the Courier-Post, that effort involved 100 truckloads of belongings and 175 families of two to nine people occupying the first 56 units.

Rents, according to project manager Mary Solstmann, ranged between $25 and $35 per month. Solstmann gave the Courier-Post an extensive interview detailing the amenities at Ablett Village. First on her list was “plenty of windows, thus providing an excellent cross ventilation and sunny cheerful daylight rooms.”

$31 a Month for Four Rooms
The first lease went to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Galloway, for a four-room and bath at $31 a month. Mr. Galloway worked at a shipyard, and the Galloways’ son Joseph also lived there.

“Camden at one time was the largest shipbuilder in the country,” remarks Nick Cangelosi, vice president of the Michaels Organization, hearing about the deep history of the project.

The rooms had “easy to care for hardwood floors, large closets, fully equipped kitchens containing utility tables, large cupboards, sink and laundry tubs and linoleum covered floors. Bathrooms have built-in tubs, medicine cabinets and linoleum floor covering.”

The manager lauded the variety of opportunities available to children at Ablett Village, including “attractive play spots equipped with slides, swings and sandboxes, and summer sprinkler showers.”

Solstmann also described the project site as something that nowadays would be called transit-oriented development. Direct bus lines passed the door of the development, with fares of a nickel, and connected with ferries and the Pennsylvania Railroad terminal. Bus number 15 would take residents to the central business district and beyond, to Philadelphia.

The development was named after William Stanley Ablett, a Camden resident and seminary student who was killed in France in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. His mother, Mrs. Harriett L. Ablett, unveiled a portrait of her son at the 1943 project dedication, according to the Courier-Post.

Twelve Million Bricks
Caristo Construction Co. was the 1943 builder, and its winning bid was $1,000,016. The brick and cement contractor, C.O. Struse and Sons, Manayunk, PA, was notable for doing a project elsewhere that required 12 million bricks.

In the present day, Ablett Village will be replaced by a five-phase development of 425 mixed-income, energy-efficient units, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awarded the project $35 million in “Choice Neighborhoods” funding. Money from Choice Neighborhoods, a program that replaced HUD’s HOPE VI program, is intended to repair or replace distressed public housing and also to integrate residents seamlessly into their local neighborhoods.

Cangelosi says this project is not just “bricks and sticks,” as many HOPE VI projects tended to be. Besides the housing itself, Michaels is targeting neighborhood improvements, such as public art, biking trails, parks and internet access, while empowering residents through help with employment, financial literacy, health and wellness opportunities, and access to transportation.

Berkadia Tax Credit Services was the syndicator, while TD Bank was the primary investor. Other financing included a whole array of funding, such as American Rescue Plan funding, money from the Inflation Reduction Act, Energy Star funds, New Jersey state tax credits and Aspire program money from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

$80 Million in Tax Credits
Tax credit equity on all the phases came to $80 million, Cangelosi says.

The first phase, which broke ground in February 2022, is 75 townhome units, which will be spread across three separate sites in East Camden. It will be called Cramer Hill Family.

“In the past ten years, The Michaels Organization has partnered with the City of Camden and the Housing Authority of the City of Camden to redevelop seven housing communities, and now we look forward to transforming our eighth – Ablett Village,” says Cangelosi.

He says Michaels has a portfolio of 1,700 units just in Camden (mostly affordable with some market rate), as a result of Michaels itself moving its base to Camden a few years ago and determining to participate in a “tremendous renaissance” that is occurring throughout the city from new investments in education and medicine.

“We really doubled down,” he says, developing student housing for Rutgers University (Rutgers has a satellite school in Camden), as well as market-rate construction there, in addition to the affordable housing.

“These homes are going to be beautiful, modern and energy-efficient, specifically designed to meet the needs of our residents. And we aren’t stopping at brick and mortar. We will also continue to lift lives with our scholarship and professional development programs,” he says.

 Total amenities for the five phases will include an on-site health clinic, a community garden, offices and collaborative spaces for local community organizations, a community center and playgrounds. Mass transit and pedestrian infrastructure improvements will better connect residents to schools, work, retail, parks and green spaces, and attract more businesses to the area, HUD says.

Michaels’ plans include the demolition of the existing buildings on the site. The first phase includes 12 new buildings.

A Right to Return
During construction, residents displaced by the redevelopment will be moved to Cramer Hill Family homes – new family townhomes being built by Michaels and the Housing Authority in Cramer Hill, which are expected to be completed between October 2022 and February 2023, according to Michaels.

Since this is a HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, all tenants will have the option to return to new units. RAD is a HUD program that generally converts old public housing into Section 8 project-based housing, attracting outside investors for the money to complete extensive rehabs or teardowns, as is being done for Ablett Village.

Upcoming projects in Camden for Michaels include one that Cangelosi says is quite innovative: a Hospital Partnership Program where hospitals and developers team to build housing/medical services near hospitals, intended for people who make frequent trips to the emergency room. Michaels is partnering with Virtua Health on an extensive 5,300 square feet suite of medical offices and exam rooms on the first floor of the building (the housing is on the upper floors). This is the first project of its kind in south New Jersey, Cangelosi says.

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.