by Megan Lim
PATERSON — Dionna Perez of Paterson said her family’s new home at the rebuilt Riverside Terrace townhouses is so peaceful it feels like they are living out of town.
“It’s way better than how it was,” Perez said, recalling the notorious Fifth Avenue housing project that was demolished 30 months ago. “It’s like a little community now. It’s beautiful.”
The Perez family is one of about 120 who already have moved into the complex, and Paterson Housing Authority officials said they expect the rest of the 246 homes to be occupied by the fall. Perez’s praise was echoed by 10 other residents of the townhouses interviewed recently.
“It’s quiet. It’s safe for the kids to play. And my neighbors are friendly,” said Nakiya Robinson.
Before demolition, Riverside Terrace had degenerated into a place where shootings and open-air drug dealing took place. City officials say the redevelopment will transform Riverside in much the same way that rebuilding the Alabama Avenue projects did for that neighborhood a decade ago.
Construction is mostly finished on the 165 townhouses and 80-unit senior citizen apartment building, said Irma Gorham, the executive director of the Paterson Housing Authority. Work is still being done on the community center, she said.
The housing authority gave the 133 tenants who lived at Riverside just before demolition the first chance at renting the new townhouse apartments, Gorham said. So far, only 29 have opted to return, she said.
“Most of them didn’t want to move back, for a variety of reasons,” Gorham said. “A lot of them were settled where they were.”
She said the project — originally estimated at $106 million — ended up costing more than projected. But she said those costs would be covered by the private builder, Roizman Development.
Gorham said tenants already have been selected for the remaining 44 townhouses, and those families should be moving in by early August. She said the authority is waiting for city officials to issue a certificate of occupancy for the senior building, which she said is expected soon.
The housing authority director said the agency would begin seeking proposals from developers for commercial space that would be built along the Route 20 portion of the complex.
Perez, who has three children, said she was looking forward to the finishing touches at Riverside, such as the planned park and basketball courts.
“It’s a real community for kids to be safe and enjoy themselves,” Perez said of the housing complex’s changes. “It’s a big difference.”