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TRENTON-The state has, for years, touted its “smart growth” agenda with a focus on urban redevelopment, and now there’s concrete evidence that it’s taken hold. According to a new report by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, a collection of public agencies and private groups, redevelopment activity has jumped substantially since 2000.

The study, “Cities in Transition,” focuses on 30 municipalities defined by the HCDNNJ as, “showing multiple signs of fiscal and socioeconomic distress.” According to the report, those 30 cities accounted for just 5.9% of residential building permits issued between 1990 and 1999. Between 2000 and 2005, however, “these cities experienced a rebound, contributing 14% of the state’s residential building permits.”

Among the other findings: overall average annual building permit activity in the 30 cities in 2000-2005 was more than triple the annual activity in 1990-1999. In contrast, annual activity in the rest of the state was only 28% higher period-to-period. Also, three of the state’s largest cities, Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth ranked in the top 10 statewide in terms of activity, ranking first, second and ninth respectively in 2000-2005. In the 1990-1990 period, they ranked eighth, 20th and 124th.

Overall, 27 of the 30 cities studied saw annual building permit activity increase from period-to-period. Even Trenton, one of the three showing no increase, appears poised to do so, the report says. The capital city will “join the redevelopment wave with the impending opening of the newly renovated Broad Street Bank building,” the report points out. “In one stroke, its 124 new residential units will nearly equal the total of 153 residential building permits issued in Trenton in the entire decade of the 1990s.”

The report also concludes that redevelopment activity has spread to such non-distressed smaller towns as Somerville, Riverside and Wood-Ridge, and even such still-developing communities as Hamilton and West Windsor. And of all building permits issued in the 30 distressed cities in 2000-2005, 48.6% were for multifamily, compared to 20.6% for the rest of the state.

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