Residents of Newark's Ivy Hill neighborhood say their homes routinely flood during major storms — a result, they say, of decades of nearby development that didn’t consider their neighborhood.

“We're not near bodies of water,” said homeowner Libre Jones, who added that her basement was inundated by 4 to 5 feet of water after the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey last year. “It's literally manmade, urban flooding.”

Ida’s damage prompted Jones and about 20 of her neighbors to press local officials to find a solution as climate change threatens stronger storms. While city and county officials have promised to investigate the cause of the flooding, residents say the blame belongs to their next door neighbor: Seton Hall University.

They say their homes began to flood once the 58-acre campus — located across the Newark border, in the more affluent township of South Orange — began expanding in the 1990s. And now the university is seeking to expand again, with a pending application before the local planning board.

But Jones said the university first needs to properly mitigate rainwater that she sees gushing down off its property, and down her street. She said nearby Ivy Hill Park, which is run by the county, also needs to better absorb runoff.

“Between the park and the college, we're getting hit from both sides. And what, we just have to keep using our own money to pay to redo our basements?” Jones said.

Experts say increased rainfall will only worsen pockets like this of urban flooding, which usually occurs in the absence of a body of water, when there’s too much water and no place for it to go. Urban flooding is often a localized, small-scale issue that doesn’t rise to a federal disaster declaration, but can be just as devastating to those involved.

“Now we are seeing the consequences of development decisions that were made without consideration necessarily of where water needed to go, combined with the effects of climate change. And that is almost the perfect storm for urban flooding,” said Anna Weber, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

She said urban flooding tends to impact communities of color, which already struggle with underinvestment in infrastructure. It also generally involves multiple agencies and players, which makes solving it harder.

We want to hold those accountable who are accountable ... so that our homes are not impacted like that again.
Patrice Bowers, whose house flooded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and Ida in 2021.

“Because this type of flooding is so localized, it often doesn't make it onto formal maps. And so that really points to the importance of the local knowledge of community members who can say, ‘Yes, this is where it floods when it rains, and this is where we need to do something about it,’” she said.

The residents have been coming to meetings of the South Orange Planning Board, where the school is seeking permission to expand its basketball practice facility. Seton Hall officials have said the new construction won’t make flooding any worse — but they said the pending application doesn’t deal with the existing, historic flooding already causing problems for neighbors.

Finding a solution to that, they added, would require collaboration between the county and towns. The board will consider the university’s application at its next meeting on Nov. 7.

Affected residents say about four blocks of the city’s West Ward flood during the worst storms, with two intersecting dead-end streets suffering the worst of it. One street ends at Seton Hall University. The other abuts Ivy Hill Park.

Ken Walters, 74, has lived in the neighborhood for almost 40 years, and said the first time his home flooded was during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. He said that was shortly after Seton Hall began expanding its campus.

“The way that they constructed it, the land there now is pitched, so all of the runoff water now runs off of their property and it kind of funnels down into this street,” Walters said.

In a statement, Seton Hall spokeswoman Laurie Pine said that the university “values our relationships with the local community and takes their concerns seriously.”

She added that the university followed state and local construction rules for its existing development and prides “ourselves in our roles as good neighbors.”

Work is also planned at the county park in the coming year. Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said he planned to modernize a baseball field and two basketball courts with synthetic turf that is permeable, but he didn’t expect that to worsen flooding conditions either.

I don't want to start pointing fingers that somebody else can be responsible for it, because we don't know.
Kareem Adeem, Newark’s director of water and sewer

Kareem Adeem, director of Newark Water and Sewer, said the city commissioned an engineer to study the area and he expects to have more answers in six months.

“Until the study comes back and we find out what, what's the problem, I can't say how long it's going to take to repair or who's responsible for it,” Adeem said. “I don't want to start pointing fingers that somebody else can be responsible for it, because we don't know.”

Adeem said there’s also the possibility that Ida reopened a natural stream that had been previously paved over. Residents said there’s a brook behind their homes that has been leaving their backyards wet since Ida.

County officials, however, think the university’s parking deck could be the problem.

“It seems some way it's draining into our property, which is affecting [the residents],” DiVincenzo said. He committed to working with Seton Hall to get it fixed.

Residents, meanwhile, are trying to delay new construction at the university, until more is done to mitigate against future storms. Among them is Patrice Bowers, whose house flooded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Ida in 2021.

“We want to hold those accountable who are accountable, and to get them to do and mitigate what needs to be mitigated, so that our homes are not impacted like that again,” she said.