Officials Target Oakwood

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ELIZABETH — Oakwood Plaza’s 358-federally subsidized Section 8 housing units, for poor and low-income residents, would be converted into 260 townhouse-style apartments under a plan advanced by local politicians.

Mayor J. Christian Bollwage and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak hope to use $27 million in taxpayer money to demolish the crime-plagued Oakwood Plaza apartment complex.

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Angry tenants confronted the politicians last week, expressing outrage over conditions in the housing complex. Residents left angry, saying officials made the same promises they’ve made before.

They demanded hot water, replacement of damaged fences, safe places for children to play and a stop to the drug dealers.

Christine Foglio, the president of Community Investment Strategies Corp. and wife of former Trenton Mayor Doug Pamer, said her company was able to buy the property using funds borrowed by two local government entities.

Union County and the City of Elizabeth put taxpayers deep in debt to fund the private corporation’s purchase of the housing project.

Lesniak has proposed a legislative bailout that would shift expenses from local taxpayers to the state.

Foglio told a New York Times reporter last year that she plans to tear the whole thing down, rebuilding 100 fewer units and potentially managing new complex as conventional moderate income housing.

Lesniak, a wealthy Elizabeth resident who was robbed in his home last year, says Oakwood Plaza is infested with drug dealers and its residents should have a better place to live.

“Tearing them down and building townhouses will not solve the problem,” said Willa Barnes, an Oakwood resident. “What they need is security.”

Lesniak sponsored legislation aimed at delivering $20 million of taxpayer money from the state to fund the privately-owned Oakwood redevelopment. A Star-Ledger editorial published Tuesday, June 8, was critical of the plan: “Sen. Ray Lesniak must think we’re all ‘stupid imbeciles,’ That’s the invective he hurled at one housing advocate who had the temerity to question a bill that takes $20 million from the state’s housing trust fund and funnels it to a private development not far from the senator’s Elizabeth home.”

Lesniak also sponsored legislation to abolish the Council On Affordable Housing earlier this year,  which prompted an ethics complaint lodged by the NAACP.


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