In Newark, the American dream is this year's sweetest Valentine

Sat Feb 14, 2015 7:29pm EST
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By Peter Wolf

NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - For more than 200 couples who lined up in Newark, New Jersey, on a frigid Valentine's Day morning, the city's plan to sell building lots at the bargain price of $1,000 a piece was a chance to make the American dream come true.

The turnout was also beyond the wildest dreams of the officials who came up with the idea of offering a sweetheart deal to attract fledgling families to neighborhoods of the state's largest city that need of an influx of new residents.

"Families are the core of community, so we wanted to change the perception of our community, to get people to choose to live in Newark," said Mayor Ras Baraka. "But this has taken on a life of its own."

Baraka, the son of poet and activist Amiri Baraka, said a website about the sale drew 10,000 hits, and the offer has garnered international media attention.

The sale of 100 lots on a first-come-first-served basis was open to couples only, whether married or not. The buyers had to promise to build a home on their land within 18 months and live there for at least five years.

All told, more than 225 couples lined up, 30 of whom spent the entire night camped out on the street in temperatures hovering near 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-7 Celsius).

Among them were Shannon Guy, 29, and her partner and fellow lawyer, John Errico, 28. The couple, who were seventh in line, only found out about the sale on Friday morning.

By late afternoon, they had pitched a small tent on the street outside City Hall and spent the night comparing data about commute times, crime and curb appeal on a laptop. Ultimately, they snagged the lot they wanted on Garside Street.   Continued...