Camden to Begin Demolition of Blighted Buildings

It's touted as a crime-reduction measure, but questions remain about implementation.

Blighted housing in Camden is being marked for destruction. | Google Street View

Blighted housing in Camden is being marked for destruction. | Google Street View

Sometimes you’ve got to tear down before you can build. That’s partly the idea behind Camden’s demolition program — starting today — that aims to knock down 600 blighted buildings in the next 18 months.

CBS Philly reports:

These are not fixer-uppers. They’re what Camden County Congressman Donald Norcross calls “the worst of the worst” — structurally deficient properties that drug dealers take over.

“They break into them, they live there, they conduct their business in there under the safeguard of nobody seeing them,” Norcross says. “Thus, they turn into these crime factories.”

The first phase targets 62 homes in the city’s Whitman Park neighborhood.

The South Jersey Times adds:

According to Camden County spokesman Dan Keashen, the 1500 block of Louis Street is an appropriate place to begin the demolition work, as county police officers recently discovered and removed a “gun safe” containing multiple firearms from one of the vacant homes there, highlighting the public safety risk many of these boarded-up structures pose. Officials have stated in the past that some abandoned homes are used as “drop houses” for weapons and drugs.

“There’s no question that the abandoned housing on the 1500 block on Louis Street poses a public safety challenge,” said Keashen.

Officials in the city have long described the rows of boarded-up, vacant structures that line Camden as not only an eyesore, but a threat to public safety. Police have stated that the abandoned structures have become havens for criminal activity, while others point out that many of them are in danger of collapsing.

The Courier-Post found some problems, however, with Camden’s process for notifying owners that buildings would be destroyed.

The owner of the property selected as the project’s kickoff demolition, Ollie M. Cuff, 72, is a former clerical worker for the Camden City police department who retired in 2012.

Reached by phone Monday at her Lindenwold home, Cuff said she was unaware of the city’s plans to begin tearing down her home.

Cuff claims the city never sent legal notices to her Lindenwold residence asking her to fix or repair the falling-down Camden property and she has not received a demolition notice.

The paper added, however, that Cuff is fine with the demolition: “Cuff, who suffers from pulmonary disease, said she did not have the money to either fix or tear down the home herself. She is ready to see it go, though, having outlived her two sons and other close relatives.”