A near perfect storm of casino closings and Hurricane Sandy has decimated Atlantic City’s housing market.
The situation has gotten so bad that Atlantic City’s Housing Authority was forced to close its waiting list for public housing or housing assistance through Section 8 programs, according to Thomas Hannon, the director of staff operations.
That only happens when the number of people on the waiting list is four times the amount of typical vacancies.
“It is really very hard because there is nowhere that I can direct them to solve their problem,” said Hannon.
Recently released U.S. Census data shows that the middle class in Atlantic County is shrinking, home ownership rates have decreased and the amount of residents receiving public assistance has nearly doubled from 2010-14. The host of changes being felt throughout the county, experts say, cannot be pinned on one culprit.
“It was pretty shocking,” said Rutgers Assistant Professor of Public Policy Michael Hayes, who said he expected to see a drop in areas of higher income as well. Instead, there was an increase at opposing ends of the spectrum.
Median income in the area continues to hover around $66,920, those making under $24,000 a year have increased, as have those making more than $100,000, according to census data. But, the most noticeable increase comes from the number of those receiving public assistance.
“In 2010, 6.5 percent of the households received food stamps or SNAP benefits in the past 12 months. In 2014, 12.5 percent of households received these forms of public assistance. This is a large increase,” said Hayes.
The percentage of owner-occupied homes versus rentals in the area also has declined with a decrease of about 3 percent since 2010 from 70.7 percent owner-occupied homes and 29.3 percent rentals, to 67.7 percent owner-occupied and 32.3 percent rentals in 2014 .
Public assistance agencies such as the Atlantic City Housing Authority have witnessed the change in the county’s economic climate first-hand.
The authority currently has 500 applicants for their family sites and over 750 for their elderly and disabled high rises. That’s twice as many as there were four years ago, said Hannon, the director of staff operations..
Hayes agreed that all of these shifts could be caused by the casino closures, explaining that the loss of jobs within the entertainment sector in the county, combined with the period of recession that began in early 2000’s plays a part in the county’s economic situation. But he can’t be sure.
“It’s all multiples of each other, but you really do not know for sure what is causing what,” he said, adding that an increase in divorce rates within the county also could account for some of the changes.
Hayes’ colleague Paul Jargowsky, who also is a professor of public policy, puts faith in Hayes’ hypothesis, saying that an economy that is overly dependent on one industry is vulnerable to that industry’s swings.
“In the case of the Atlantic City area, the casinos had a big effect,” he said. “The industry was also impacted on a national level. The national money was in decline so people could have had less money to gamble with, and then the east coast monopoly on the industry also disappeared.”
Still, agencies like the Atlantic City Housing Authority are left to deal with repercussions.
“The major issue that the city and the housing authority will be addressing is finding developers to provide decent affordable housing within the city,” said Hannon, explaining that after some new housing was built in 2012, no new construction took place until 2015 — a three year lapse.
Hannon said nearly every day he hears from many asking for assistance and the demand in the area simply cannot be met. Some applicants have been on list for as long as five years.
“Even if the waiting lists re-open, without the prospect of a true housing opportunity, all it does is just give people the opportunity to sit on a list and wait.”