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Atlantic City's historic low-income housing ready for facelift

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ATLANTIC CITY — Now that WinnDevelopment has purchased three historic buildings long used for low-income housing, the company will begin renovating 153 rental units with residents on site.

And that has many of them excited — if a bit cautious — after living with what officials call “sub-par” conditions for years.

“It sounds like good news, but the proof is in the pudding,” said Sal DaSilva, 49, who has lived at the Liberty Apartments at 1519 Baltic Ave. for seven years.

He said his air conditioning doesn’t work, and there is no ventilation in his windowless bathroom. The kitchen and bathroom have decades-old cabinets, floors and appliances. And the old carpet aggravates his allergies.

Housing quality has been identified as a particular problem in Atlantic City. The Jim Johnson report on improving the city in preparation for returning it to local control made boosting home ownership for first-time buyers a key objective.

While the renovation project will be for renters, not buyers, it will improve the quality of life for lower-income residents, something Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said is vital to Atlantic City’s success, at a news conference Wednesday at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.

Oliver, city officials and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director Matt Doherty were there to celebrate the company’s closing on the purchase and the project moving ahead.

The buildings are the 66-unit Schoolhouse Apartments at 61 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which was the Illinois Avenue School and the Boys Vocational School in the early 1900s; the 20-unit Disston Apartments at 1711 Arctic Ave., a YMCA widely used by the black community in the early 20th century; and the 67-unit Liberty Apartments at 1519 Baltic Ave., in the former Liberty Hotel that catered to the black community in the early 20th century.

Before moving to the Liberty, DaSilva — a native of Brooklyn and the Bronx, New York — spent about five months homeless, he said. He got a one-bedroom apartment at the Liberty through a homelessness prevention program.

Under the housing choice voucher program, formerly called Section 8, he pays 30 percent of his income toward rent, and the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development pays the remainder.

DaSilva is a houseman at Tropicana Atlantic City, he said.

WinnDevelopment Senior Vice President Brett Meringoff said the company is on track to begin renovations in late summer or early fall. DaSilva got a letter stating the company’s inspectors will be on site the last two days of May and asking people to give them access to the inside of units.

The $17.3 million purchase from JJJ LLC was financed by BlueHub Capital, using funds from the U.S. Department of Treasury; and by Citi Community Capital, according to WinnDevelopment.

The CRDA is also loaning $4.45 million to WinnDevelopment.

Christina Diaz, 33, said she has lived at the Disston for 12 years and grew up in the Schoolhouse Apartments.

“It’s a nice place — quiet,” Diaz said of the Disston. “But the maintenance is horrible.”

She said problems are never fixed in a timely manner and kitchen cabinets are “horrible and old. The bathroom is horrible,” she said.

Diaz asked Meringoff whether maintenance would improve under the new owners.

“Maintenance is really important,” said Meringoff. “When we take over, (housing projects) have often been sub-par in operations, management and in living environment. We get back to basics.”

He said the company will run a 24-hour maintenance hotline.

“Our reputation is everything,” said Meringoff.

He also said the company will invest in a better security camera system, and is investigating how to integrate it into the police surveillance system, for extra security.

WinnDevelopment is the development arm of WinnCompanies, a national multifamily property developer and manager. WinnCompanies owns more than 100 multifamily housing properties in 11 states and Washington, D.C., with more than 13,000 apartments, the company said.

In New Jersey, it owns Bridgeton Villas, a 156-unit community in Bridgeton; and City Crossing, a 131-unit scattered site in Jersey City. Both have been extensively renovated in the past three years, according to the company.

Company spokesman Ed Cafasso said it’s too early to say exactly what the renovation will involve, but “what we typically do involves all new kitchens, baths, carpeting or flooring, creation of handicapped units and exterior improvements.”

Sometimes work needs to be done on systems like plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning, and roofing, he said.

“We’ll know precisely in about three months,” said Cafasso.

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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