ATLANTIC CITY — The historic public housing communities of Stanley Holmes Village and Buzby Village are about to undergo a massive overhaul, according to the Atlantic City Housing Authority.
But it will take more than a decade to complete, and no one will lose a public housing unit or income-based rent, stressed authority Executive Director Tom Hannon.
The authority is interviewing co-developers now and will soon decide whether to renovate the two communities or demolish and rebuild less dense developments on site and on other city properties, Hannon said.
First, a co-developer must be chosen, Hannon said. That could happen as soon as Thursday’s board meeting.
“We have resolutions on the agenda,” Hannon said. A vote may happen after a discussion in executive session, he said, or it may be postponed to the June meeting.
On Wednesday, Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Lynne M. Patton will take a tour of Stanley Holmes Village and two other housing authority properties, said spokesperson Olga Alvarez.
Patton is in town for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, said Alvarez.
The housing authority has been working on finding a way to improve conditions at both complexes for years. It has been slowed by changes in leadership — former executive director Clifford Scott left in May 2017 after less than a year on the job — and by the long process of getting permission from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and putting out requests for proposals, Hannon said.
The 420-unit Stanley Holmes Village off North Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard was built in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration, and is the oldest public housing development in New Jersey, Hannon said.
Both Stanley Holmes and the 126-unit Buzby Village off West End Avenue near the Ventnor border, are old, cramped and the boilers that provide heat and hot water are located far from some units.
Old underground piping that moves the heat and hot water has started to fail, Hannon said.
“Stanley Holmes Village used to be notorious,” said Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White. “But especially since we put in state-of-the-art cameras, the violations and drug activity have really decreased — with the same people living there that were there before.”
Maria Baez has lived at Stanley Holmes Village for seven years and likes living there.
“It’s been good,” she said. “The neighbors are pleasant. You make it your own place where you live.”
Hannon said the housing authority needs the help of the private sector to redevelop Stanley Holmes and Buzby.
“We do not have the expertise or the money,” Hannon said, to undertake the huge project of replacing so many housing units. He estimated the cost at the 44-building Stanley Holmes at $200 million, with a 10- to 18- year time frame, and said it would have to be done in phases.
HUD, which funds the authority, made changes in its rules several years ago to allow housing authorities to partner with private entities.
The first two sections of Stanley Holmes, located between MLK and North Kentucky Avenue, and Baltic and Adriatic avenues, were built during the Great Depression when HUD was about to become a new agency.
Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who is on the Housing Authority board, said first lady Eleanor Roosevelt cut the ribbon to open the community.
The third section of Stanley Holmes, bordered by North Kentucky and North New York, and Adriatic and Sewell avenues, is newer — it opened in 1951 — but is most in need of replacement because it was built on old military barracks foundations, and the housing is too close together, Hannon said.
While Villages 1 and 2 are built around center courtyards, Village 3 is built along tightly packed military lines.
The authority must decide whether it will renovate the units, try to provide each building with its own heat and hot water, and enlarge rooms, or demolish and rebuild.
The authority is leaning toward demolishing Stanley Holmes in stages over 15 to 18 years, and replacing it with the same amount of housing built in smaller groups on the current site and spread around the city.
It is leaning toward rehabbing Buzby, which was built in 1953 and is already above flood elevation, he said. But no decisions have been made, Hannon stressed.
“There are already rumors we are going around tearing down houses,” Hannon said. “The biggest thing we don’t want to happen is for people to be afraid to lose their housing or have to move out to market rent.”
So he always repeats to residents, ”We are doing this to get you into a better home than you are living in now.”
Elaine Gilliam was sweeping her front steps at Stanley Holmes on Friday.
“I love living here,” she said, “I’ve been here 40 years. I have a lot of neighbors, but I know they’re going to knock it down soon. It’s sad.”
Stanley Holmes would be replaced in stages, with the 144-unit third village being the first to go.
The new supermarket CRDA is planning on building in the city will be within walking distance of the current Stanley Holmes, so Hannon knows the location will be popular and people will want to move back there. It’s also within a block of the New York Avenue School, another big plus.
At Buzby Village on the south end of town, temporary replacement housing would be offered to residents, who would then move back into renovated units. The housing authority would bear the cost of moving both ways.
But everything there needs to be upgraded, he said. The units need new bathrooms, new roofs, and heat and hot water boilers added to each building.