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Thursday, March 28, 2002
Serving Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Haddonfield, Haddon Township and Voorhees

JOSE F. MORENO/Courier-Post
John Meier recently converted this one-time duplex into a single-family home. He is shown with (from left) his wife, Amy, stepson John and stepdaughter Alysha.

Collingswood total households
1990: 6,399
2000: 6,263
Change: -2.13%
Source:U.S. Census Bureau

Collingswood total population
2000: 14,326
Change: -6.3%
Source:U.S. Census Bureau

Single-family homes in, duplexes out

Courier-Post Staff

Collingswood Mayor M. James Maley Jr. said just about every neighborhood in his borough has a problem duplex property.

"The biggest problem is how they stress parking and the schools," Maley said. "It puts two families in a house originally made for one."

Faced with absentee landlords who defer maintenance to deteriorating rental properties, Maley spearheaded a plan to convert duplexes back to single-family homes. The plan focuses on houses that were originally single-family homes.

First Colonial, a Collingswood-based bank, has signed on as the lender for the project. Officials said it is difficult for owners of these properties to get conventional improvement loans.

Maley, a redevelopment attorney, helped make the plan attractive to buyers.

Many of the duplexes are assessed at a lower value than single-family homes in the borough, sometimes by as much as half. Borough officials estimate property values for many duplexes are between $40,000 to $80,0000. As single-family homes, the assessed value is often doubled.

The borough duplex conversion plan finances the cost of conversion up to the anticipated assessed value of the property as a single-family home. It secures financing for renovations at two percentage points below the prime rate and arranges for no payments on the loan for the first year.

A mortgage will be placed against the property to cover the renovation costs and the first-year loan payments. The new homeowner will be required to pay all mortgages when the house is sold or refinanced.

The result, officials said, is reduced density, higher property values with increased tax revenue, and an upgrade of declining properties. The plan could also reverse a trend that is graying the borough.

Residents in the 45-to-59 age population have increased by 39 percent in the last decade. Residents in the infant- to-14 age group have declined by 11 percent over the same period.

"It can bring young families back for classic fixer- uppers," Maley said.

More than 100 duplexes have been converted since the program started 18 months ago, said John Kane, the borough' s community development director. Kane said property values are also up by 35 percent.

The borough still has 467 duplexes, 71 triplexes and seven quads. Forty-six percent of the borough's 7,400 residential addresses are rental properties. Many of the structures in the borough were built before 1940.

John Meier, 44, a borough employee and longtime resident, decided to convert a duplex in the 700 block of Lees Avenue when he recently married and his family expanded with a new wife and two stepchildren.

"The house was unlivable when I bought it," Meier said. "It looked horrible. It wasn't very well taken care of. The neighbors hated it then, but they like it now. It's really a quality of life issue for the neighborhood."

Meier bought his house for $80,000 and got a $70,000 loan to renovate it. The borough plan prohibits the home from becoming a duplex again and requires structural changes to eliminate divisions between the two units. He said the home was recently reassessed at $150,000.

Borough officials believe the neighborhood face-lift, combined with a vibrant shopping district and town center along Haddon Avenue, is a winning combination. Nearby access to the PATCO rail lines into Philadelphia and to major roadways is also a selling point.

News of the program is starting to spread. Maley said other towns are inquiring about the plan.

Meanwhile, a borough newsletter gets the word out to residents.

"We put pictures of people getting renovation checks in the paper," Kane said.

Today and Tomorrow stories:
Camden County

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