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North Camden Land Trust
Camden, New Jersey
CDFI: The Reinvestment Fund
Loan type: Land trust

Located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, North Camden, New Jersey, was once a solid working class town with a strong middle class of professionals. But, over the years, many of the industries that provided jobs have relocated. By the time the RCA television factory was razed in 1997, full employment was a distant memory.

According to Jeremy Nowak of The Reinvestment Fund, a CDFI in Philadelphia: "North Camden is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Camden, which is quite a contest to win. But, it is also one of the best organized neighborhoods, in terms of civic organization." In the late 1970s, North Camden residents started a squatters' movement, living in abandoned buildings that had been seized by the city government. Many squatters were eventually given title to their buildings, and the North Camden Land Trust was formed to take ownership of buildings that needed to be rehabilitated before they could be lived in.

Construction financing from a conventional bank for such an unusual mission was impossible, but The Reinvestment Fund was interested. Jeremy Nowak recalls, "I remember that the first house I looked at in North Camden for a loan—— a very small loan——$40-$50,000 loan——had no back wall and only a limited amount of its side wall. I remember going back and saying, 'Oh my God. I don’t know if these guys can pull this off.' We had very little room for any error. We were just starting up as a loan fund. So, it was one of these loans that you had to make on faith. There was no collateral value in North Camden, trust me. We made that loan and since then they have rehabilitated well over a hundred units of housing and have got their own thriving construction company doing some great stuff."

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