AFL-CIO Housing Trust Invests in $56.8 Million Cancer Center in Camden, N.J.

CAMDEN, N.J. (PAI)–Camden, N.J., is probably not the first place investors would normally consider for financing a new, multi-million dollar building project, especially a state-of-the-art cancer center. The city had the highest crime rate in the U.S. in 2012 and one of the lowest high school graduation rates. Poverty is widespread, and well-paying jobs are rare.

 

            The AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust looks at Camden and sees potential, instead.  That’s why its dollars led to a new $56.8 million cancer center in the struggling city just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

 

            The Housing Trust (HIT) is one of several federation investment arms – its Building Investment Trust is another – stepping in and using unionists’ pension dollars to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, including its hospitals, roads, highways, housing, buses and subways, at a time when government can’t (as in Camden) or won’t.

 

            The two trusts join other labor-created investment vehicles, notably ULLICO, that invest millions of union pension dollars in productive projects with two aims: Employing unionists and spurring economic development.

 

            So rather than seeing Camden’s socioeconomic challenges as obstacles, the HIT saw them as motivation to back the project.  As a result, the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper opened its doors last fall in a city known more for things going wrong than anything that has gone right. The trust and the other investors hope the cancer center will start Camden economic renewal by creating jobs and spurring others to invest in the city.

 

            And the trust’s investment in Camden isn’t alone.  Besides Camden, the trust and its subsidiary, Building America are financing almost $250 million in construction of medical facilities and health centers in poor, medically under-served communities around the country.

 

            The HIT, a fixed-income mutual fund, invests union pension capital in projects focused on affordable and workforce housing, union job creation, community development, and economic recovery.  The projects also create union jobs, since union labor builds them.

Building America adds leverage by providing New Markets Tax Credits to help fill financing gaps for development projects that benefit the residents of distressed neighborhoods.

 

            Other healthcare projects recently financed by the HIT include the $115.6 million Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y., and rural Oregon’s $29.7 million critical access facility in the expanded Coquille Valley Hospital.  Building America projects include the $35.3 million Stout Street Health Clinic in downtown Denver,  a $21.6 million expansion of the Caring Health Center in Springfield, Mass. — a city where only 25 percent of low-income residents are able to access medical care — and one fifth of funds for the $46.3 million Clinical Science Center at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in a high-poverty area of Buffalo, N.Y.

 

            Besides being 100 percent built by union construction workers, the health care projects

are also supposed to generate permanent employment, HIT said.  The Camden project created more than 100 union construction jobs and 42 permanent jobs at the new center.  “We are thrilled this new state-of-the-art facility is open to serve patients in southern New Jersey,”said HIT Vice president Eric Price, who also heads Building America.

 

            “Not only is it bringing advanced cancer treatment to the area, but it will also serve as a catalyst for Camden’s economic revitalization, especially by creating jobs and encouraging further new investment in the surrounding low-income community.”

 

            The 103,000-square-foot Camden center is in a medically underserved area.  Camden -based Cooper University Health Care and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, a top U.S. cancer hospital, will jointly operate it.  Area cancer patients will now have access to Anderson’s innovative treatment, research, and clinical trials.

            Meanwhile, in Philadelphia'[s hard-pressed Ludlow neighborhood, Building America provided $5 million in new market tax credits to help finance a $48.2 million, mixed-use project completed last December.  Designed to revitalize Ludlow, that Paseo Verde project includes a primary healthcare center, pharmacy, and social services office, affordable rental housing and  commercial and retail establishments.  An adjacent regional train station that helps connect the neighborhood to Philadelphia’s downtown anchors the development.

 

            The project generated over 300 union construction jobs.  It’s also expected to create 42 new permanent jobs and support the retention of another 39 jobs in the local economy.

 

            The 137-bed Seton Center in Yonkers, which opened in March 2012, replaced cramped quarters midtown Manhattan. The new center generated more than 160 union healthcare positions as well as 800 jobs for members of the local building and construction trades.  It also  provided a new home for children with serious medical illnesses, birth defects, brain injuries, or cognitive or physical disabilities, says HIT New York City director Carol Nixon.  The 165,000 square-foot center also has an on-site school for resident children.

 

            “It’s a wonderful facility and a wonderful group of people worked hard to make this pos-sible,” she said.  “Children are getting tremendous care to get the best possible outcomes.”

 

            In Buffalo, the new Clinical Science Center on the campus of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute is scheduled to open by late 2016.  Building America provided $9.2 million in taxers credits for it.  It’s expected to generate 200 union construction jobs and more than 340 permanent jobs.  The neighborhood has a poverty rate nearly four times the national average and an unemployment rate more than 1.5 times the national rate of 6.1 percent.

 

            The center plans special outreach programs for community members, plus greater access to expanded medical treatment, including cancer research, survivor support and prevention services, and on-site mammography screenings for high-risk populations, Roswell Park CEO Dr. Donald L. Trump said.  “While cancer affects people of all socioeconomic levels, its burden on those with low incomes is disproportionately high,” he added.  “The Center will help us to overcome some of the key barriers contributing to that disparity.”