By Howard Monroe

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Camden County is on a mission to get rid of hundreds of abandoned homes in the City of Camden. The first phase of a demolition project is now underway.

Officials say the homes are undermining quality of life for the city’s residents.

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“I was raised in Camden, got married and left, and when I came back, it looked like a bombed-out Beirut,” Camden native Gladys Gibbs said.

Likening Camden to a city that’s been in the middle of a war since the 1970s. That’s how Gibbs describes her hometown.

“Sometimes, it’s sickening when you ride through the neighborhoods that were nice neighborhoods and so forth and so on,” Gibbs said. “And you see rows of uninhabitable homes. Something should be done about it.”

On Wednesday, the city began the process of demolishing 300 houses that they say are public safety hazards.

“It’s all about, and I think everyone here would agree, improving the quality of life for our residents,” Mayor Vic Carstarphen said.

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The demolitions come as the city continues to revamp its image. Once riddled with violence, the crime rate is now the lowest it’s been in 50 years.

They say removing these properties will help move the city along further.

“I consider these abandoned homes to be incubators for criminal activity,” Camden County Police Chief Gabe Rodriguez said. “We find them to be stash houses for drugs, for other crimes, sexual assaults, robberies and even gun violence.”

The city is working with the Camden County Improvement Authority on the project. They got a $15 million grant from the state.

Properties across the city will be razed and possibly redeveloped or left as open space.

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“It takes one property, an abandoned property that destroys everyone’s quality of life,” Camden City Councilmember Angel Fuentes said.