Camden’s Woes

Walt Whitman once called Camden, “A City Invincible”.  Undeniably, Camden is far from invincible at this point; perhaps, “unprotectable” would be more appropriate. 

Despite last minute efforts, ongoing negotiations and political wrangling, the fact remains that, Camden, New Jersey, laid off 168 police officers and more than 60 firefighters.  That’s more than 45% of the entire Camden Police Force.  Unbelievable!

Just to refresh your memory, this is the same Camden that was named the nation’s second most dangerous city in the United States in 2010…having lost it’s spot as the most dangerous city in the U.S. in 2009.

This situation is the result of a $26.5 million dollar deficit, declining State aid, dwindling tax revenue and inflexible unions.  Camden is one of the nation’s most impoverished, corrupt and violent cities.  The median household income is less than $27,000 per year.  Once an industrial hub along the Delaware, the city has been eroding and with no reason to stay, businesses and industry have been fleeing Camden for decades.  The most recent evacuee was Campbell’s Soup, leaving hundreds unemployed and a huge hole in the tax base.   

From a real estate value perspective, this could be the kiss of death for Camden.  Who wants to live or work in a community where you do not feel safe?  Granted, the feeling of safety is relative but, now with almost half of the “good guys” gone, the vulnerability felt by the average Camden resident and business is only going to be amplified. 

Many of the fundamental principles that drive real estate values are tied directly to human needs.  One basic human need is for a person to feel safe in their own home.  Another human instinct is flight from danger.  Inevitably, those residents who can afford to will leave Camden for safer havens.  Those remaining will be those who can’t afford to leave, the poor, and those who don’t want to leave, the criminals, the dealers and the addicts. 

When residents begin leaving, the ripple effects will be felt throughout the Camden real estate market.  Rental vacancies will increase resulting in decreasing rental incomes.  Listing inventories will swell and prices will begin to drop as more and more sellers try to attract fewer and fewer buyers.  Vacant and abandoned homes will also add to the problem as property owners decide to cut their losses and walk away.

The simple economic principle of supply and demand would point toward continued declining property values in Camden, in the near and foreseeable future, regardless of whether or not an agreement can be reached between the City and Police Union.

Despite all Camden’s social, governmental and economic woes, there is room for hope.  From a real estate viewpoint Camden does have some good things going for it.  It has the waterfront, bridge access to Philadelphia, rail access to New York, Cooper Hospital, Rutgers University, The Comcast Center, the Camden Adventure Aquarium and the Rivershark’s Stadium.

With luck, entrepreneurial spirits will step forward, and private investors and developers will decide to take a risk.  It may not happen in the next few years.  It may not happen in our lifetime.  However, I believe that the private sector will step in as some point and initiate a profitable effort to reinvent the decaying city, making it once again worthy of Whitman’s words.

In the meantime, we can only hope and pray for the safety and well-being of our neighbors (and remaining Police and firefighters), in Camden.