Some may think it would take a miracle to turn a derelict Atlantic City home back into the “Showhouse at the Shore” that it was 11 years ago.
A community group called AC Miracle House insists it is up to the job.
Today, members of Miracle House will begin the process of saving the one-time luxury home at 602 N. Carolina Ave. by cleaning up the mounds of trash that have made the property a makeshift dump.
Miracle House wants to convert the home into temporary housing for ex-offenders as they transition from prison back into society. Anita Coleman, founder and chief executive officer of Miracle House, said this would be the first program of its type in Atlantic City.
“We are the bridge for them to stand on, to fill in the gap, until they can go back into society,” said Coleman, a pastor with the Divine House of Deliverance ministry in Atlantic City.
Negotiations have begun with the homeowner for Miracle House to lease the property, Coleman said. However, Miracle House must first secure a zoning variance from the city to convert the home into a counseling center and transitional housing for ex-offenders.
Pastor Rondell Showell, the administrator of Miracle House and a member of the Divine House of Deliverance, said the group expects to go before the Zoning Board this month or next to seek approval.
Now empty and badly blighted, the house once served as the headquarters for Gilda’s Club of South Jersey, a place where people with cancer and their families could gather for education and support.
In 2002, the home was the featured “Showhouse at the Shore” when it was the host site for a fundraiser for the Ruth Newman Shapiro Cancer and Heart Fund.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a state agency, built the house in 2001 as a showplace for “universal design,” which means it was tailored to the disabled as well as able-bodied people. Design touches included everything from wider doorways to light switches placed low enough on the wall to accommodate people in wheelchairs.
After Gilda’s Club moved out in 2005, the CRDA sold the house to Hung Pham of Ventnor for $603,000. Pham had originally planned to demolish the house and build townhomes in its place, but the project never materialized, Showell said.
“His project came in when the housing market crashed,” Showell said.
With the fate of the property unclear, Miracle House began talking to Pham about converting the home into transitional housing for ex-offenders. Discussions are under way for a multiyear lease, but Coleman and Showell stressed that plans depend on Miracle House first winning a zoning variance from the city.
Keith Mills, the city’s director of planning and development, could not be reached for comment Friday. Pham also could not be reached.
Members of Miracle House plan to begin cleaning up the property today. The yard is littered with plastic milk jugs, paper wrappers, beer cans, whiskey bottles, old clothes, bicycle tires, pieces of plywood and other trash.
Windows and doors in the house have been boarded up to keep out intruders, but vandals have damaged the property. Coleman and Showell said that although the outside of the house has been vandalized, the interior remains intact.
“It’s still beautiful inside,” Coleman said. “When it was built, everything was state of the art, so it was a showhouse.”
Miracle House plans to have between eight and 12 ex-offenders in the house. Showell said they would be mostly ex-drug offenders and others who committed nonviolent crimes. There would be no sex offenders in the house, she said.
Miracle House wants to use the home for women. However, Showell explained that men could also be housed there for a while because Miracle House is still working to find a separate, larger facility for its male ex-offenders.
Men and women would receive spiritual guidance, education, job training, financial counseling and other assistance during a one-year program that would eventually reunite them with their families or lead to permanent housing.
Miracle House is estimating it will cost about $100,000 to convert the house for its program. It will largely depend on private donations, government grants and collaborative services from other organizations that also help ex-offenders. Coleman and Showell said they also hope that contractors will donate their services to help fix up the house.
More information on Miracle House is available on its website at www.dhod-acmiraclehouse.org.
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