The project, named Oliver Station, represents a state-funded effort to create a joint affordable housing and healthcare development in the Whitman Park neighborhood.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 1, 2023
Officials from Virtua Health and the Michaels Organization broke ground on what they described as a first-of-its kind model combining healthcare services and affordable housing into a transit-oriented development in the Whitman Square neighborhood of Camden City.
The three-story, $24-million development, named Oliver Station, will comprise 48 one- and two-bedroom units as well as a 6,000-square-feet, “neighborhood-centric medical campus,” Michaels Senior Vice President Nick Cangelosi said.
Virtua Health is the lead entity on the project, which will be built and managed by the Michaels Organization, but the bulk of its funding originates in the $12-million New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) Hospital Partnership Subsidy Program (HPSP).
Terry Tucker, Chief of Staff to the NJHMFA Executive Director, said the project “represents a meaningful investment into the health and housing of Camden residents,” and will facilitate the development of supportive housing in communities served by healthcare organizations.
It is financed through a combination of roughly $11 million in revenue bonds, $9.2 million in federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), $750,000 from the New Jersey Special Needs Housing Trust Fund, plus $4.2 million in a direct contribution match from Virtua Health.
Camden County provided another $1 million for the demolition of the existing structure on the site, which Cangelosi described as a blighted four-story office building. He said the financial structure underpinning the project allows each participant to focus on its areas of strength to create “a model to address senior health and housing.
“We as a national developer take on the real estate risk and manage the real estate; Virtua manages the healthcare element,” Cangelosi said. “We feel like we’re going to have seniors wanting to live here.”
Virtua President and CEO Dennis Pullin said that the aims of the project square with the fundamental objectives of his health system to “be available and accessible to all regardless of age, race, background, income.
“The challenge before us is social determinants of health: factors that influence the quality of life, and even for some people, life expectancy,” Pullin said.
“Housing affordability and accessibility to healthcare is one of those social determinants.”
View this post on Instagram
Of the 47 rental units planned for Oliver Station, four will be two-bedroom apartments, and 43 will be one-bedroom units, five of which will be dedicated to people experiencing housing instability.
“It’s hard for somebody to think about their health if they don’t have a roof over their heads,” Pullin said. “It’s hard for somebody to be compliant with a drug therapy program if they don’t have housing.”
Virtua will manage the delivery of healthcare services across the 13 examination rooms on the property, which Pullin said will include primary care augmented by specialty services that have yet to be defined. If the model proves to be successful, both Virtua and Michaels hope to replicate it across the state.
“We have a responsibility to participate in creating communities of wellness,” Pullin said. “We can’t expect to have a material impact if we cannot address some of these issues that impede the delivery of care. This is transformational.”
The project takes its name from both Reverend Thomas Oliver of the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church of Camden City, as well as the late New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver.
Thomas Oliver was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, who is credited with providing a comprehensive account of its operations to help enslaved Black Americans flee bondage in this part of the state. Sheila Oliver chaired the NJHMFA board, and was an advocate for affordable housing and home ownership across the state.
Tucker, who served as the late lieutenant governor’s chief of staff, fought back tears describing what the acknowledgment would have meant to her late friend.
“She’d be truly, truly honored that her name would sit on a project like this,” Tucker said. “Everybody who knows her knew she had a love for communities. She’d be very pleased today that a part of her legacy is here.”
Camden City Mayor Vic Carstarphen said the development would generate “ultimate positive outcomes that are going to help our residents.
“It will be the first of its kind in the City of Camden to have healthcare paired with medical offices and affordable housing,” Carstarphen said.
“There’s kids who will be impacted generationally with what you all are doing today.”
Atmosphere at the event was punctuated by performances by the Camden City PACE Band as well as the presentation of, “I See You,” an original poem penned for the event by Shawn Regina Jones, and dedicated to the people in the Whitman Park neighborhood. It is reprinted here with her permission.
I See You
I wake up in the City Invincible
with a rock pigeon perched on the wall sconce
above my front door. Strangers call her
a rat with wings, but I have named her Stone.
Fed her corn, seeds, and bread.
Studied her flock. Shared a roof with her squabs
who sing at night under the light of a just moon
where birds claim the front porch
every window ledge and humans claim
the block, every revamped room,
even those abandoned crevices
with planks of wood. No knobs or hinges.
Just gateways to our hood of unnamable places.
But we christen our homes and our kin
create sounds and signals that go beyond
the thresholds of this city, and we give
ourselves permission to build
right where we are and no matter how far
we travel away from this nest, and no matter
how long the journey, we return
with a nod that says, I am here.
If anything disturbs this space,
I have acknowledged the row
of faces in this community.
I see you.
To the women who lean over
porch railings like wilted petunias
and hum tunes from Stevie’s Hotter than July
as three children eat ice pops
and dance like marionettes under
flood lamps, I know what you have
lived through on and off these streets.
This nod solidifies our unity.
To the mom who swaps sugar, gossip
and hyssop tea, shops in her neighbor’s
closet like it’s the Cherry Hill Mall
and hops two buses to see one movie,
To the dad in the stained apron
whose cherry hands shoo away hornets
and scoop water ice with a God Bless and Amen
to put his five kids through private school,
I see you.
To the couple with canes, khaki slacks,
and silver fros who hobble
to the laundromat, market, and
doctor on the other side of town,
To the entrepreneur who works
the night shift at Shoprite, takes classes
during the day to earn his GED,
and owns a detailing shop,
To the student who pawns
her wedding ring, watch, and pearls
to pay college fees and takes
14 years to complete a 4-year degree,
To the swat team
that moves with stealth and grace–
Black head to toe. Black front to back
down the alley behind Washington Street,
and to the girl from Cramer Hill who builds
a relationship with her dad through snail mail,
collect calls and picnics at Bayside where
she can’t wear shorts, flip-flops, or caps,
I see you.
I know what it is like to feel safe and unsafe
makeshift locks on my bedroom door.
I, too, have been afraid behind brick
I see you.
You are the one with radiant gold,
ruby, and razzmic jewels
the color of iridescent plumes.
The most powerful flier of all birds.
You have rescued people. Rode on
wide wings of resolve. Left and returned
like Cher Ami to the same door.
Not unscathed from the history
you’ve made back and forth across the sea.
Message bearer. Carrier of words. I see you.
Invincible. Unconquerable bird of the city.
—Shawn R. Jones
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.