Residents of Atlantic City's South Inlet neighborhood are receiving notices to vacate their homes to make way for a still unfunded Casino Reinvestment Development Authority project.
Plans were announced last year for a redevelopment project expected to bring a mix of new housing, restaurants and shops to the neighborhood surrounding Revel. To make way for that development, the authority must acquire and raze several blocks of property between the casino and Absecon Lighthouse. That includes about 60 residences primarily in the Vermont and Metropolitan low-rises.
Staggered letters have been sent to property owners and residents in the redevelopment area stating they have 90 days to leave or face eviction. That timeframe gives residents - many of whom received letters in April - until sometime in July to leave, but CRDA officials insist the dates are flexible given that there is no schedule for new development. All but four property owners and tenants in the area have received notices, and the authority is still working on offers for some of the vacant lots, officials said.
The authority began meeting with residents last year to help them find alternative housing and inform them about the relocation assistance they'll be offered. A dozen have identified replacement housing. About six have yet to meet with the authority, CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said.
"We are currently in the process of scheduling those appointments and hope that as their neighbors move successfully through the process, they will gain more confidence in working with us," Butler said. "By approaching the project in smaller phases, we have been better able to accommodate the specific needs of each resident."
Announced last year as a project that would leverage investment through revenue streams from Revel, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority intended to help the CRDA secure $50 million in loans to back the development. In light of the casino's disappointing performance, the CRDA was forced to break the project into several smaller phases. No loans have been secured.
Instead, two allocations totaling about $9.8 million in CRDA financing have been devoted in the past year to land acquisition, demolition, relocation stipends for residents, legal services and site preparation. Still, funding for whatever will take the place of the housing units and vacant properties hasn't been secured, and there is no solid timeline for anything new to be built.
That prospect concerns Warren Massey, who doesn't live in the project area but became concerned when plans were announced last year. Massey, a former Atlantic City Housing Authority board chairman, NAACP Atlantic City chapter President Linda Steele and South Inlet resident Sandra Taliaferro have organized a May 25 meeting at New Shiloh Baptist Church for residents affected by the CRDA's plans.
"After 35 years of working in the casino industry, I believe the people who have suffered the most are the people who live here - the residents. We were sold a promise that did not come to fruition," Massey said. "Now with rapidly declining casino revenues, they want to uproot people who have lived through these years and tell them they can no longer live where they choose to live."
The eminent domain process is commonly used by municipalities for construction projects involving roadways or other public spaces. The CRDA also uses the process for commercial projects due to its mission as a redevelopment agency for Atlantic City.
Massey said the organizers are working to have officials from housing rights groups at the meeting, and residents will be invited to share their concerns. The CRDA will also be invited to attend, he said. Butler said the authority would like to have representation at the meeting and be part of the dialogue and provide information directly to the residents.
Some confusion over the project arose last year when residents said they were told at information sessions with CRDA housing officials that they would have to be out of their homes by December. When official letters never arrived, some residents became angered at what they called a lack of communication. At the time, CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri acknowledged that the authority needed to improve its communication. Residents needing more than the state-mandated 90-day notice to leave would be accommodated and no one with children would be displaced during a school year, he said.
No matter the timeframe, resident Paul Dalnoky said finding comparable replacement housing is difficult. He rents space in a house on Oriental Avenue - one of a few parcels affected along with the low rises. While the property isn't new, finding a rental property at a similar price in a safe neighborhood is difficult, he said.
"It just seems like they want us to get out of town, leave Atlantic City," he said.
The CRDA will help residents find other properties in the city, in neighboring towns or out of state. They're offered relocation assistance that's more generous than state regulations mandate. Renters are offered $9,600 over three years, plus $750 in fixed moving expenses or the cost of movers provided that multiple estimates are obtained.
The process has been used several times before with other CRDA projects, including redevelopment near the North Carolina Avenue corridor that affected 57-year-old Joel Clark, who was living in a more-than 100-year-old home where he'd grown up on Baltic Avenue.
A holdout for several years, Clark, who owned the property, moved last year after purchasing his aunt's home on Caspian Avenue. Because his property on Baltic had a rear deck, the authority provided a $10,000 allocation to help him install a deck at the new home, he said.
"Of course I didn't want to give up my property. I wanted my house, you know? At first we had a bit of an adversarial thing going on," Clark said. "But I'll give them credit, they helped with the deck. That was a big thing for me."
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South Inlet housing rights meeting
What: Informational meeting on housing rights for South Inlet residents
When: 2 to 4 p.m. May 25
Where: New Shiloh Baptist Church, 701 Atlantic Ave. in Atlantic City
Who: Organized by community leaders for residents affected by the South Inlet redevelopment project
Why: Organizers are asking residents to voice concerns about the relocation process and speak with housing rights experts