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Courier Post: New homes in Camden lure buyers

Trokon Smith, a 35-year-old professional who works for Lockheed Martin, recently purchased his first home.

It’s a newly constructed four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, a fireplace and a Jacuzzi bathtub. In addition, there’s a finished basement and a fenced-in backyard.

Cherry Hill? Voorhees? Moorestown?

How about Camden?

Smith and his wife purchased one of the new Coopers Hill Town Homes on Sixth Street off Washington. The red brick houses sit in the shadow of Cooper University Hospital and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in the city’s Lanning Square section.

Smith, a native of Liberia, moved to Camden from Philadelphia. He called the move “great.”

“I was driving around and saw the sign for (Coopers Hill) and thought I should look into it,” he said.

“I saw the plans (city officials) have for the area and it seemed like a good investment. We love it.”

Investing in Camden was unheard of just a few years ago. In fact, when M&M Development of Newark said it wanted to build the townhomes, city officials thought “we were crazy,” said Maria Lopez, one of the Ms in M&M.

The townhomes go for about $162,000 to $219,000. “They said there was no way we could ever get that type of money (in Camden),” Lopez recalled.

“It took a lot of work, but we thought if you give people the right product, they’d be more than happy to pay for it. We found that a lot of people who moved out of Camden wanted to come back. But there wasn’t the right product.”

Related: The Victor in Camden: A tale of two cities

Lopez and her partner, Maria Yglesias, first built a 27-unit condominium building at Seventh and New streets that was completed in 2012. Just a handful of those condos are still available.

“This is phenomenal,” said Camden County Freeholder Scot McCray, who lives just a couple blocks away.

“This was 10 years in the making, spurred by a lot of community involvement and input, and the corporate citizenship from Cooper,” he added.

“People use West Philadelphia as the barometer for urban change and what you can do with colleges and health care facilities. But here we’re really starting to see stabilization. There’s a sense of history and purpose here as younger people are snatching up these new properties and you have people who have been here more than 40 years.”

Up the street from Smith, four first-year Cooper medical students have rented one of the townhomes. Two of the roommates expressed initial hesitation about moving to Camden.

“There is that perception of Camden,” said Ryan Miller of Voorhees. “But for us it’s worked out perfectly. And we’ll be doing a lot of community service, so it’s nice for us to live here and lead the charge on the Camden rebuilding era.”

Miller’s roommate, Tim Diestelkamp of Swedesboro, praised the efforts of the Camden County Police Department.

“I feel very safe here. There’s a great police presence, and it’s a very nice area. And these houses are very impressive. The park across the street (named for resident Sheila L. Roberts) is absolutely beautiful.”

The students each pay about $700 a month in rent, which Miller called “pretty reasonable.”

“The house is great,” he added.

The construction of six new townhomes on Berkley Street will begin in about a month, according to Nuno Costa, the construction manager for M&M.

“They should be done by this time next year,” Costa said.

After that, the next project on the M&M to-do list, Lopez said, is the rehabilitation of the Pierre Building on Federal Street, across from Rutgers.

“We’re going to have 23 rental units in the building,” she said. “And hopefully we’ll start the renovations before the end of the year.”

“Amid all the physical changes there’s a really good strong fabric of people here,” McCray said. “There are pockets of multicultural blocks where it all doesn’t look the same.

“And with this new really good housing, that’s what makes me love it here even more.”

Reach Joe Cooney at (856) 317-7830 or Follow him on Twitter @cp_JoeCooney.