Hassan Keith likes to brag about James Baxter Terrace, the historic Newark housing project where he grew up.
“It was really a village — there were cousins, there were elders,” he said. “Those of us who grew up there are all highly educated and employed now.”
As the head of general construction for the Mid-Atlantic Alliance and managing partner of Lofts at Lincoln Park, Keith is one of Baxter Terrace’s highest achieving sons. From his community connections, to his own entrepreneurship, to his efforts to make more Newark residents homeowners, Keith spends every day building a better Newark.
The Mid-Atlantic Alliance has three developments in Newark: Lofts at Lincoln Park, Black Wall Street Project, and Urban League Townhomes. The ribbon-cutting for Lofts at Lincoln Park, a $7 million, 18-unit condominium development at 90-96 Clinton Avenue, took place this summer.
When Keith graduated from Rutgers in 1994, he moved back to Baxter Terrace to live with his grandparents and help care for his mother who’d just been diagnosed with cancer.
“The neighborhood was no longer what it was when I grew up,” he said. “It was dangerous.”
This spurred a search for a new home. Keith eventually found a three-family house in East Orange, NJ, fit for little else but a total rehab. But he did it—and moved his whole family out of Baxter Terrace.
“I got my passion for building out of that experience,” he revealed. “Out of ripping down the walls and putting them back up. From there I bought another house and got my friends from college involved.”
Keith has been gutting homes and fixing them up ever since, putting up new apartments and duplexes, and helping more Newark residents become homeowners. Members of the community know his mission and call him or stop him on the street to ask how they can qualify to buy a home, sort out mortgages, navigate credit inquiries, and build up the financial ability to own a home.
Even as Mid-Atlantic strives to meet the growing demand for at-market and even luxury housing in Newark, Keith takes care of his own.
“We have to make sure that we’re not pushing out residents that have been living in Newark for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “There’s no way that I would come in and move my cousins.”
But at the same time, he’s optimistic about what is happening in Newark.
“You can see changes every day. Our neighborhoods are becoming more desirable. People are coming to Newark and seeing the value.”
Those college buddies who helped Keith rehab that first house are now his business partners: Victor Baker, whose contracting firm was merged with Keith’s to form the Mid-Atlantic Alliance, and Michael Bunton, who went to Wall Street after college and helped Keith get the down payment for his first house.
A newer but no less valuable arrival to the crew is Mike Adams, the starting safety for the Carolina Panthers, who is involved in youth programs in Paterson, NJ, and who is emotionally invested in redeveloping urban communities.
And that emotional investment, shared by all of the Mid-Atlantic Alliance, is more central to their goals than the financial investments. What sets them apart from other developers is their dedication to the city of Newark.
“You need to have a conscience,” Keith says. “This work is more than just bricks and mortar.”