“This is how we sell Perth Amboy,” he said of the neighborhood, which slopes up from the bay and has a recently renovated park that hosts Sunday concerts in summer, which is sure to appeal to prospective buyers from the city. “But this isn’t Perth Amboy.”
He and many of his neighbors rarely shop in the commercial area along Smith Street several blocks away, he said, preferring to drive to nearby malls.
But Barry Rosengarten, a developer who chairs Perth Amboy’s business improvement district, said the downtown is due for at least one large upgrade: New Jersey Transit has allocated funds for a $50 million redevelopment of the 1920s train station there, he noted.
Such measures would help Perth Amboy join many other New Jersey cities in developing housing around transportation hubs. In support of this direction, Mayor Wilda Diaz’s office recently presented a plan to commercialize several blocks of Front Street near the water and raise the heights of downtown buildings.
William Petrick, the City Council president, said the plan may not sufficiently address problems with aging infrastructure, including a neglected water supply and sewer system. “But I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer,” he added. “We have some great history, and we need to focus on marketing that.”
What You’ll Find
Perth Amboy was first incorporated in 1683. It has wonderful historic buildings in various states of repair. Its city hall, part of which dates to 1714, is the oldest continuously operating municipal building in the United States. The last British royal governor’s palace in existence is on Kearny Avenue — a building called Proprietary House, where Benjamin Franklin’s Loyalist son, William, briefly lived before his arrest by militiamen.
Perth Amboy also has a long post-colonial history of immigration, as conveyed by a neighborhood called Budapest and another formerly known as Dublin. About 80 percent of the town’s 52,000 residents are Latino, including the mayor, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico.
David Caba, a local real estate agent, said buyers from New York are attracted not only to the single-family Victorians on the historic waterfront, but also the midcentury ranch homes in Spa Springs, a neighborhood with easy access to the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island. The nest of highways cutting through the city also includes the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.
Multifamily homes are more common in the center of Perth Amboy, Mr. Caba said, and are frequently bought by outside investors who rent them.
Harbortown, a townhouse development below Route 440 that is expanding east toward the water, has a mix of condominiums and rental units; eventually there will be 1,800 units in all.
What You’ll Pay
Enrique Hernandez, founder of Petra Best Realty in Perth Amboy, said the housing market has picked up in the last two years because of continuing low interest rates and an infusion of buyers who have repaired bad credit and can now obtain financing. Demand has driven down inventory, so that only about 60 single-family houses were on the market as of November, compared with double that number two years ago, he said. And the supply of multifamily homes sharply decreased as well during the same period, from about 65 to 12.
According to the real estate website Trulia, from May 24 to Aug. 23, the median sales price for homes in Perth Amboy was $210,625, based on 60 transactions, a year-on-year increase of 3 percent.
Mr. Hernandez also noted a strong rental market. Monthly rents range from about $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit in a downtown building with a business on the lower floor to $2,600 for a three-bedroom townhouse in what he described as a “good area.”
Standing at the shore, looking north over rippling water to the bridge to Staten Island and the garden of giant white petroleum tanks next to it, one is reminded that nature, historic pedigree and heavy industry make strange bedfellows in a town. Ms. Pozycki-Torres may have summed up Perth Amboy’s jagged edges best when she described her life there as “very chill, but also very intense.”
Among Perth Amboy’s five elementary schools, Robert N. Wilentz, founded in 2000 to help ease overcrowding, enrolls about 960 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. On 2015-16 state tests, 36 percent met standards in English compared with 57 percent districtwide; 34 percent met standards in math versus 71 districtwide.
One of two middle schools, William C. McGinnis enrolls 1,522 students in fifth through eighth grades. On state tests, 31 percent of students met standards in English versus 29 percent districtwide; 17 percent met standards in math versus 14 districtwide.
Perth Amboy High School serves about 2,500 students in ninth through 12th grades. Mean 2016 SAT scores were 434 for reading/writing and 448 for math, versus 537 and 538 statewide.
As the town’s student population continues to swell, a new high school is planned on Convery Boulevard. And ground was broken last month on Seaman Avenue for a 128,000-square-foot elementary school that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.
New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast line offers frequent train service from Perth Amboy to Pennsylvania Station. Rush hour trip times range from about 45 minutes to an hour and cost $12.25 each way, or $353 for a monthly pass. A bus operated by New Jersey Transit travels from Perth Amboy Station to Port Authority in about an hour and costs $10.75 each way.
Perth Amboy began as Ompoge, a point of land deeded by the Leni Lenape Indians in 1651 to Augustine Herman, a Bohemian explorer. The name mutated to “Amboy,” and the word “Perth” was appended in 1684 to honor the Scotsman James Drummond, Earl of Perth, who helped settle the territory constituting much of present-day New Jersey. Perth Amboy’s imagined history from more than 3 billion B.C. to A.D. 22,175, all taking place on a single site across the street from Proprietary House, is represented in Richard McGuire’s 2014 graphic novel “Here.”