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Has Atlantic City finally figured out what to do with all its rooming houses?

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Atlantic City rooming house

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Atlantic City have been cracking down on code enforcement of rooming houses. This property, on South Ocean Avenue, has been converted from a rooming house to a commercial hotel as a result.

ATLANTIC CITY — A coordinated effort between the city and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority will result in a reduction in the number of rooming houses in the Tourism District.

Fourteen rooming houses — multi-tenant dwellings with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities — are either pending conversion or have already transitioned into duplexes, apartments or hotels. The use variances for these properties will reduce the number of licensed rooming houses in Atlantic City to 28, city records show.

CRDA and city officials said the changes are the result of increased code enforcement for rooming houses combined with stricter adherence to permitted land uses in the Tourism District, which includes the Boardwalk, casinos and much of the downtown commercial area.

The rooming house operators who are converting their properties into other commercial uses are doing so voluntarily, officials said.

“This is a step in the right direction to improve the living conditions and quality of life of those neighborhoods,” said Council President Marty Small Sr. “We look forward to — property by property — bringing everyone in line and providing a better housing stock for residents in Atlantic City.”

The CRDA has zoning and land use authority over the Tourism District.

“We are pleased to see that the work with Atlantic City Code Enforcement is beginning to pay off in reducing the number of rooming houses in Atlantic City,” said Matt Doherty, executive director of the CRDA.

Even with the reduction in numbers, Atlantic City’s rooming house situation is not in compliance with state or local regulations. The state Rooming and Boarding House Act — which the city’s regulations mirror — prohibits the number of people living in rooming homes to exceed 1% of a municipality’s total population and bans operators from being within 1,000 feet of each other.

City officials estimate 600 to 700 people live in a rooming house. Based on 2018 population estimates, there should only be about 385 people living in rooming homes.

Clusters of rooming houses are scattered throughout the Tourism District, in clear violation of the 1,000-foot rule.

Proposed or completed conversions of rooming houses on Florida, Ocean and Tennessee avenues will alleviate some of those violations.

Sixth Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who chairs City Council’s licensing and inspection committee, said efforts to address these issues began several years ago but have only now produced results.

“This is really the fruit of what has been a focused effort for, now spanning, a couple of years to try and do something, which most people said was impossible,” Kurtz said.

Both Small and Kurtz said rooming houses are a necessary element of affordable housing in an urban environment. But both officials said Atlantic City’s rooming houses are a drain on resources, particularly when it comes to public safety and emergency responses.

In 2018, the Atlantic City Police Department responded to more than 800 calls for service to rooming houses, for issues ranging from excessive noise and loitering to violence and drug activity.

But even more than getting a nuisance issue to a more manageable level, city officials said the conversion of rooming houses to duplexes, hotels or apartments will enhance the aesthetics, perception and desirability of several neighborhoods. With rooming house operators transforming their properties into more commercially viable enterprises, officials believe it can benefit both the property owners and the city.

Small, who chairs council’s revenue and finance committee, said following the citywide tax reassessment (scheduled to begin this year and be completed by 2020), several of the converted rooming houses could help increase the ratable base and offset several years of declining revenue.

“I think by taking a more balanced and forceful approach to enforcement, where operators and owners know that laws are going to be enforced, the owners are either going to improve the quality of the home and how people are bedded as tenants, or they’re going to (pursue other business opportunities),” Kurtz said.

The joint effort between city code enforcement, led by Dale Finch, director of the city’s licensing and inspection department, and CRDA should serve as a model of how Atlantic City can tackle other quality-of-life issues, Kurtz said.

The Mayor’s Office declined to make Finch available for comment.

“This is a perfect example of leadership being shown at the local level to point a very clear direction toward a problem, namely the over-concentration of rooming houses, and the state coming in with the local leadership and making things possible that we couldn’t do on our own,” Kurtz said. “This should be a new way of doing government business, where it’s year-round, it’s focused, it’s fair, it’s clear, it’s evenly handled and it’s not done in bits and spurts.”

Small said this type of joint effort cannot be a one-time thing if Atlantic City is to continue on a path toward revitalization.

“This is a great accomplishment,” Small said. “(But) we can’t be one-and-done. We can’t let our guard down.”

Contact: 609-272-7222 Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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