Camden's blue-collar roots and chronic inferiority complex were almost bound to mean trouble. Overshadowed by its big brother, Philadelphia, it became a typically blighted northeastern city with race riots, unemployment and teeming slums. In 2004, it ranked as the most dangerous city in America, bumping Detroit for that dubious title and getting an even worse rap than it already had.
But things have a way of changing, even for a moribund river town in South Jersey. As real estate prices climbed in Philadelphia, the underutilized and unappreciated city got a second look from people seeking an affordable place to live in a town where boarded up buildings were far more common than new construction.
“It's very much like Hoboken,” says Steve Storti, a senior vice president with Prudential Fox & Roach in Philadelphia. Like its resurgently hip northern neighbor directly across from Manhattan, people awoke to the realization that they can afford to live in the aging industrialized city of Camden with a bird's eye view of the Philadelphia skyline.
Housing prices have been depressed for years but Camden is on the verge of a facelift from builders looking for cheap and available land within an easy commute of job centers.
“Big builders are looking at those areas very closely. There is a lot of redevelopment occurring in Camden County,” says David Brandschain, president of Heritage Residential, a Philadelphia-based firm that is building a new community of homes outside the city limits called Wilton's Corner in Camden County.
Builders are talking about Camden because its renaissance could help stimulate the entire region, according to Timothy Lizura, director of real estate development for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
Brad Haber, the vice president of acquisition for the Delaware Valley division of K. Hovnanian Homes, agrees. He says Camden provides a fertile living environment in an urban area. “This is a terrific under-housed market. People are working and living in Camden, and they would love to live in new housing.”
The big builder is planning to build 600 townhouses homes adjacent to Camden's business district. K. Hovnanian is not alone, according to Haber. Two other builders have also gotten the green light from the city to redevelop two areas of two—Crammer Hill and Bergen Square.