Mayor Baraka Asserts Newark is Moving in ‘The Right Direction’ at State of City Address

“I’m optimistic, and I have good reason to be,” Baraka told the audience.

Baraka’s address came on the brink of the city’s May nonpartisan municipal elections as the mayoral incumbent seeks a third term. With the mayor’s chair and all nine council seats up for grabs in this year’s election, the event provided Baraka ample opportunity to spotlight his accomplishments in office.

The event kicked off with a video montage of interviews and media clips showcasing the city’s achievements under the mayor’s leadership. Following the video presentation, Baraka addressed the audience from a podium on stage, sharing the details of his upbringing in New Jersey’s largest city and how it shaped him as a Newark resident.

“I come to you this evening as a kid from Newark - son of Amiri and Amina Baraka, who both gave their heart and blood to this city,” he said. “They loved and still love this city immensely and have passed that love down to me, and I have tried in my years to use that love to create hope, to build belief, and ultimately the courage to transform – to move from what we know to what we can imagine. I have used that love to move our city forward.”

Part of Baraka’s efforts to move Newark forward could be tied to multiple initiatives the city has undertaken to address its affordable housing gap.

Last week, Baraka introduced amendments to the city's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO) that are targeted to increase the supply of housing that residents can afford. The city's IZO, originally adopted in October 2017, requires developers of city projects of 30 units or more to set aside 20% of their units to be affordable for low- and moderate-income families. The ordinance covers families in a range of incomes, from below $40,000 annually to $80,000 for families of four.

The amendments to the ordinance laid out by the mayor came as the city aims to address its affordable housing stock shortage. A report issued in February 2021 by The Rutgers Law School Center on Law, Inequality and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME) revealed that the city's housing stock falls short to provide affordable units for low-income residents by about 16,000 units.

In response to the report, Baraka’s office teamed up with CLiME, the city’s Office of Economic and Housing Development and local partners to draft a multi-pronged approach to address what the mayor called “a growing problem in this town and a growing problem in this region.”

In order to combat the city’s shortage of affordable housing units, Baraka in August 2021 announced plans to build 3,000 new homes across Newark’s five wards by 2026 and to create or preserve thousands of affordable housing units for its lowest-income residents. Additionally, the city invested $20 million in new housing targeted to residents with a household income of $32,000 or less. 

“We are funding the preservation of 6,000 affordable units and will support 10,000 vulnerable or unsheltered households every single year,” said Baraka.

During his speech, Baraka said that the city has also seen improvements in public safety in recent years.

In November 2021, the mayor announced that the city would invest $19 million into violence reduction strategies over the next three years. The investment is aimed to bolster a number of actions the city has taken to enhance its public safety operations.

Part of the city’s investment into community-based public safety strategies is also tied into shifting the mindset as well.

The Newark Police Department last year took a major step in transforming its law enforcement strategies when it introduced a group of 10 social workers through the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery to address how mental health issues are overlooked in everyday interactions between police and the public. Under their roles, the social workers are tasked with providing services to crime victims and others such as crisis intervention, mediation and referrals.

The move fell in line with the city’s commitment to allocate about $12 million of its public safety budget into an Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery as a means to impede hate activity and violence within Newark.

“Even more, we changed police policies and practices, added additional training for our officers,” the mayor said.

Perhaps Baraka's most notable feat in office was the city reaching its goal to replace all of its known lead service lines - about 23,000 – with copper pipes years ahead of schedule when trace levels of lead were discovered in 2017 in several private homes. The original plan was to replace all service lines over a 10-year period. Nearly three years after the city entered the first phase of its lead service line replacement program, it reached its goal.

To celebrate this accomplishment, Baraka hoisted a piece of one of the city's last lead service lines during his address, which was met with a roar of applause from the crowd.

While highlighting a number of other accomplishments Baraka felt have set the city on a path in the “right direction,” he noted that the city has already made strides to pull itself from the throes of the pandemic and will be able to overcome any obstacles or adversity.

“We are still, even in a pandemic, scoring touchdown after touchdown,” he said. 

At the end of his address, the mayor shared a final unifying message, calling on residents to help shape the future of the city.

“We show the world what the future of Newark looks like,” Baraka shouted to the crowd.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-16 05:27:47 -0700