South Inlet residents concerned that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will soon evict them to make way for a mixed-use development attended a meeting Saturday to try to understand the process - and their rights.
Residents expressed concerns over where to go, how much time they have before being forced out and how they will find comparable housing, especially at a time when many places still have damage from Hurricane Sandy.
Notices began going out in April warning residents they had 90 days to vacate their homes or face possible eviction as the CRDA plans new housing, restaurants and shops in the neighborhood surrounding the Revel.
"I'm confused how a governmental entity who doesn't own the property can send out eviction notices," said Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who also addressed residents at the meeting.
The CRDA is still in negotiations with the owners of the Metropolitan and Vermont low-rises, which account for 59 of the 67 tenants that will be displaced in nine lots. Another lot is owner occupied, while four others are vacant. Of the tenants who would be moved for the project, one has been relocated with a dozen other s having signed or in the process of signing leases, according to the CRDA.
The plans were first announced int July, when residents were told that the eviction notices would go out Sept. 1, with the deadline for leaving likely December. But, with funding not approved, the letters didn't come until April.
"I came home (from that first meeting), talked to my kids, then packed half my house up and put it in storage," said Sandra Taliaferro, who is leading the way.
Her home has been "upside down" ever since, she said.
"For one year, we've had this cloud over our heads," said William Kennedy, who lives with his father on Metropolitan Avenue. "Paying rent to suffer is one hell of a thing to have to do."
"People need to know, because we're talking about fear and panic," Councilman Steve Moore told the CRDA representatives.
CRDA Deputy Executive Director Susan Ney Thompson said she realized the 90-day eviction notices were disconcerting to people and stressed that - because there is no developer agreement in place - there is time. The Relocation Act, however, requires the language used in the letters that may have worried residents.
"We are taking our time," Thompson said. "It's not an urgency. We don't relocate anybody until we find a place that works for them.
But Roxanne Simmons said that was not the case for her last CRDA-made move. Eight years ago, she was moved from a two-bathroom, three-bedroom home to a smaller unit that has five bedrooms but only one bath - and, she said, is roach-infested.
"This will be my third move," she told the group. "I'm not going to Back Maryland. I'm not going to the Westside. I'm not going to the back of whatever."
In the letters, residents were told they would have 90 days to leave or face eviction, with renters given $4,000 over the next three year.
Residents at Saturday's meeting said that would not cover anything currently available to them.
That amount, however, is only what the CRDA is obligated to pay, Thompson explained. Instead, the CRDA will pay as much as $9,600 to residents, if needed. That can also be increased on a case-by-case basis, as the place residents are leaving is compared to the cost of a comparable home.
The CRDA also can help in the search, including transportation to potential residences.
"The burden's not on you," said Bunny Rixey, director of the CRDA's real estate development. "The burden's ours to find you decent housing. To find you comparable housing.
"We will not move you until you find affordable housing that you are comfortable with," she added.
The CRDA is responsible for application fees along with the security deposit and first month's rent, Rixey explained.
Ali Reynolds, a city resident in charge of the CRDA's Community Outreach, invited residents to reach out to her and said she would be a mediator between the CRDA and residents.
Olga Polmar, with South Jersey Legal Services, reassured residents that they could not easily be evicted, and invited them to set up individual appointments to more clearly explain their rights.
Councilmen Mo Delgado, Sporty Randolph, Marty Small, Frank Gilliam, George Tibbitt and Council President Speedy Marsh also attended the meeting, along with Deputy Chief Henry White and Langford's Democratic mayoral challenger Dave Davidson Jr.
But Moore said the room at Shiloh Baptist Church - which was paid for by the CRDA, Thompson noted - should have been filled with concerned residents.
Taliaferro agreed, urging those gathered to knock on their neighbors' doors and make sure everyone gets involved.
"I need for us to show unity," she said. "I need your help. I can't do this by myself."
She also said they need to attend the CRDA's monthly meetings so they can bring their concerns to the 17-member board.
Only one member was there Saturday, Langford, who pointed out he is the only city resident in the group mostly appointed by the governor.
"If you think that bodes well for us, you know it really doesn't," he said.
But Thompson said the Tourism District isn't about separating the city.
"Part of what our goal is is to recognize essentially two halves that make a strong whole," she said. "It brings it all together. One can't exist without the other.
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