WATCH Atlantic City's 'fragile promise'

After the rapid loss of jobs in Atlantic City in 2014, officials and residents alike had the same daunting question: “How can the city rebuild itself?”

The city’s casino market was shrinking, home foreclosures soared and thousands of people moved out of the area in search of a better life elsewhere.

At The Press, we created a project called Reinventing AC, suggesting 10 big ideas we thought could move the city forward, and asked readers to share theirs. We collected more than 400 thoughtful comments from folks, and published a two-page graphic presenting the ideas.

A year later, we followed up to see what action had been taken toward completing any of the ideas, which included suggestions such as building a water park, booking more conventions and introducing sports betting to the city.

Since then, Stockton University built its Atlantic City campus, South Jersey Industries and other smaller businesses have emerged in the city, and two shuttered properties have reopened as Ocean Resort Casino and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

But challenges remain.

Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy, released a report on Sept. 20, 2018 outlining the ongoing issues and solutions to this familiar question: Given its history of poverty, blight, and lack of leadership, how can Atlantic City move forward?

Using the report as a guide, our Reinventing AC project will explore the proposed solutions and real obstacles to enacting the recommendations outlined there. Over the course of 2019, we’ll try to address the complicated issues that have long kept Atlantic City from sustained success.

Every month, we will focus on a central issue: entrenched poverty, job opportunities, quality of life, education, diversity, infrastructure and more.

Our goal is to ignite a conversation among city residents — and those whose lives are impacted by the city’s success or failure.

We want to hear from you. Join the conversation in the comments section on this page to share your thoughts.
 

-Kris Worrell, Executive Editor and Vice President, News

Every month, we will focus on a central issue: entrenched poverty, job opportunities, quality of life, education, diversity, infrastructure and more.

Our goal is to ignite a conversation among city residents — and those whose lives are impacted by the city’s success or failure.

We want to hear from you. Join the conversation in the comments section on this page to share your thoughts.

 

-Kris Worrell, Executive Editor and Vice President, News

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NewTap to learn what was discussed at Atlantic City civic association meetings

QUALITY OF LIFEJuly

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Quality of life in Atlantic City: What do residents need?

For Kyle Schuster, a 22-year-old studying marine biology at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus, life is good at the college’s beachfront dorm.

But during the winter, he said, the resort seems to shut down with no tourists to serve. Sure, the casinos are still open, he said, but they don’t hold much appeal for a college student on a tight budget.

“It would definitely take more of the non-touristy lifestyle — like more akin to the people that actually live on the island,” he said of what he would need to stay in the city after graduation. “There’s not as much to do during the winter.”

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to improving a city, from crime rates and blight to access to health care and transportation. Day-to-day amenities, such as easy access to grocery stores, shopping and recreation, also make a city attractive to potential residents and businesses.

But defining quality of life is a fickle thing. It can mean something different depending on who’s asked; a college student making plans after graduation isn’t going to prioritize the same things as a retiree or a parent raising their children.

This month, The Press of Atlantic City is taking a look at what city leaders need to create or improve in the resort to attract new residents while keeping the current ones happy, involved and committed to their communities.

Jean Griffin, 81, said she doesn’t understand people who say there is nothing to do in the resort.

“There is more to do than I have time or money for,” said Griffin, who volunteers, takes jewelry-making classes, is part of a book club and more. “We go to the beach. My husband and I walk on the Boardwalk. We even spend $20 at the casinos, so there is always something to do in Atlantic City.”

Improving residents’ quality of life is one of the key recommendations of the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Many residents have only limited access to high-quality food, no access to a movie theater other than inside a casino and limited after school and summer programs for children, according to the report. Johnson called addressing these issues “pivotal to rebuilding community life, and some are essential to the health and safety of residents.”

Some parents aren’t waiting around for the state to improve their children’s access to programming, but are focusing on what’s already available.

Indra Owens, 37, a guidance counselor at Atlantic City High School, said she wished the public schools offered more structured sports for children younger than high school age, and she is praying for the school’s music and theater arts programs as they develop districtwide.

Owens said parents need to do more to help their children take advantage of what is offered.

“Overall, I want the parents to understand we cannot continue to blame local government or politics,” said Owens, who has an 8-year-old daughter, Journey. “Before we start to say what isn’t offered, we have to take more advantage of what is offered.”

Staff Writer Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.

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TRANSPORTATIONJune

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From biking to buses, how to get around Atlantic City

Like he does most afternoons, Edward Selva, 26, waited for the jitney near Columbia Avenue to pick him up for work. The Lower Chelsea stop is convenient for the 26-year-old food service worker, who lives nearby.

Selva has lived in the city all his life, and his critiques about the transit system are few.

“Just being more careful, because they be speeding,” he said as he rode the jitney to Harrah’s Resort one weekday in May.

Selva, like many area residents, had differing opinions on how well-connected Atlantic City is. It depends on whom you ask and what you mean.

The city of nearly 40,000 is home to 48 blocks, 103 miles of roadway, 4 miles of boardwalk, 13 bus routes and one train, and people use a variety of methods to get to and from, and in and out of, the city.

Situated on the north end of 8-mile-long Absecon Island, three bridges and the Atlantic City Expressway connect Atlantic City to the rest of Atlantic County. To the south of the gambling mecca, along Atlantic and Ventnor avenues, are Ventnor, Margate and Longport.

Liz Carasick, who lost her driver’s license, has been using NJ Transit buses for everything from going to work to going grocery shopping. She said she can easily find her way around the city.

“For Atlantic City, there’s plenty (of public transportation), because if you don’t take NJ Transit you can take the jitneys,” said the 35-year-old city resident.

Getting out of the city, Carasick said, can be more challenging as the buses don’t run as frequently as she would like.

Others agreed. In fact, transportation is identified as one of the best ways to attract new residents and visitors to Atlantic City in the state report released last year by special counsel Jim Johnson on revitalizing Atlantic City. In it, Johnson said the city needed to develop strategies to enhance access to the city to boost the economy.

click below to view interactive

“Atlantic City can become a vibrant place to live work and play. It currently has limited train and air service. The city and region could prosper if the train ride between Atlantic City and Philadelphia took less time and local commuters had a richer set of options,” the report states.

It said addressing the transit issue would make the city “more attractive as a home for commuters and a much more likely option for customers seeking entertainment.”

The city is the home of one end of the Atlantic City Rail Line between the shore and Philadelphia operated by NJ Transit, which just recently reopened after being shut down for months for improvements. It also is just miles away from Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

A new train schedule unveiled in May shows a focus on daytime ridership in and out of the city. Meanwhile, state and local officials are looking into a way to enhance travel at the underutilized airport, which has only one commercial airline, Spirit. State Senate President Steve Sweeney recently suggested the airport be taken over by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to alleviate pressure from major airports in the state. Local officials think it could help bring more tourists to the area.

Atlantic City’s Director of Planning and Development Barbara Wooley-Dillon said many projects have been completed or are underway to address transportation inside the city, such as the creation of a transit hub centered on the convention center.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the NJ Transit trains up and running again,” Wooley-Dillon said. “When they relocated the bus terminal within a block of the rail terminal, it’s a much better link.”

During a recent interview at her office in City Hall, which offers panoramic views of the northeastern end of the island, Wooley-Dillon said paving projects were recently completed along previously murky sections of Atlantic Avenue that would have left a car’s suspension in disrepair. The city will soon complete a safety study to make the corridor safer for pedestrians, she said.

Atlantic City is looking into both a bike share and a car share program to improve access. At last month’s meeting, City Council approved a request for proposals for the installation of electric vehicle infrastructure and a service provider and a $336,037 contract for construction of a bikeway along Atlantic and Ohio avenues.

Walking and biking are popular options for residents to commute within the city, and Wooley-Dillon admitted the city’s bike map needs an update.

Of course, all improvements cost money, and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization and New Jersey Department of Transportation have helped provide funding for the city to get even more done.

This year, the NJDOT announced a $515,531 grant for paving of Atlantic and Fairmount avenues. Paving along Ventnor Avenue was funded through a $544,715 state grant.

John Mele, the city engineer, said there is more than $844,000 in federal funding from 2014 going toward the Atlantic Avenue streetscape project.

“We’re making some progress,” Mele said. “It’s been a challenge with all the different needs of the city to coordinate these improvements.”

Wooley-Dillon said having the state involved in the process has been a tremendous help in terms of coordinating projects and ideas.

“We have the ear, the eye and the hand of the state helping the city,” she said.

Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report.

HOUSINGMay

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Home ownership key to Atlantic City success

Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White grew up here, rented his first apartment and bought his first home here.

But in 1998, he moved his family to Galloway Township, he said.

Police Chief Henry White

Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White walks past the building he lived as a young police officer in the 1980s, at Carolina Village in Atlantic City, Friday, May 3, 2019. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

“It was nothing to do with the city. That’s a part of me,” said White, who still has many family members here, thinks highly of Atlantic City High School and spends virtually every day of the week here. “We wanted a bigger home and yard, when the kids were little.”

You can get more house and property for your money on the mainland, he said.

Two of his three grown sons have purchased homes in the city and live there. One is a teacher, the other a police officer, White said.

He would like to see more home ownership in the city because of the stability it brings.

“Any time you can bring more middle class families back to the city, it helps,” said White.

Low home ownership rates are associated with poverty, social problems and a lack of engagement with the community. In Atlantic City, where only one out of four homes are owner-occupied, increasing the level of home ownership is vital to the success of both the city and the county.

“One of the fatal flaws is Atlantic City’s atrociously low percentage of people living in a unit they own,” said 6th Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz, a Republican who grew up and still lives in Chelsea.

A healthy neighborhood should have a mean of about 65 percent owner- occupied housing, Kurtz said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2013 to 2017, only 26 percent of homes in Atlantic City were owner-occupied, compared with 67 percent countywide and 64 percent statewide and nationwide.

Kurtz, a member of the city’s Housing Authority board, would like to see the city increase its home ownership program and set a goal to get the city up to 40 percent owner-occupied housing in the next 10 years and 50 percent longer term.

Such an effort could go hand-in-hand with raising the number of residents here from the current 39,000 to about 50,000 over the next decade, as suggested by Mayor Frank Gilliam and others.

When people don’t own where they live, there is a lack of investment in the city, Kurtz said.

That has played out in Atlantic City, where residents have not cared over the years about how public money has been spent.

“Fiscal responsibility is the new ‘hobby’ in town, whereas it should just be a part of the life of the town,” said Kurtz.
infographic of owner occupied homes in Atlantic City

The simple fact that some people prefer a more suburban lifestyle, like Chief White, has meant many successful people have left the city.

That has left a disproportionate number of poor living here, leaving the prospects of owning a home remote.

More than 40 percent of the city’s population is poor, compared to 14.4 percent in Atlantic County and 10 percent statewide, according to 2018 U.S. Census figures.

A rate of 40 percent or above puts it into the category of “extreme poverty,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

“Communities where poverty is so highly concentrated are associated with disadvantages for households living there over and above those disadvantages that might be expected because of the households’ limited resources,” according to a 2009 Federal Reserve study on Atlantic City.

Those disadvantages include growing up with few positive role models, a poor quality of public services, and more.

The federal government defines poverty as an income of $25,465 for a family of four; or $17,242 for a single person under age 65.

“A lot of (poor or modest income) people have problems it will take time to work out,” said Mosheh Math of Home Initiatives Inc., a nonprofit that runs home ownership classes in Atlantic City. “They need to get their credit score up, and do all the things to qualify for home ownership."

James “Sonny” McCullough recently moved back to the Chelsea section of the city from the Seaview Harbor section of Egg Harbor Township. He had a large home on the bay overlooking Longport, along with a $34,000 property tax bill.

Now, he has a bedroom condo high up at the Ocean Club, pays $7,000 a year in property taxes, plus a condo fee of $850 a month.

James

James "Sonny" McCullough came back to Atlantic City and now living in the Ocean Club. April 29, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

His southeast-facing balcony looks out at the ocean, the shuttered Atlantic Club and over to Bader Field. His unit is so high, he can read the faint outline of the name of Atlantic Club’s earlier incarnation as the Hilton casino at its very top.

But McCullough, a longtime mayor of Egg Harbor Township before stepping down last year, has no illusions about the difficulties ahead for the city and how that may discourage people from choosing to live here.

His reasons were varied. His wife Georgene (McCabe) grew up in Chelsea, he said, and wanted to be close to the beach and Boardwalk. His roots are deep here. His grandfather Anthony Ruffu was mayor when Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall opened in 1929.

“I moved back because I care for city,” said McCullough.

 

PUBLIC SAFETYApril

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Residents want more police on the streets. Here is what Atlantic City is doing.

Sharon Aloi remembers years ago when she saw more patrol cars parked in the city, including one near her property in Lower Chelsea.

“It made me feel good when it was there because people aren’t going to be breaking into cars and they’re going to think twice about breaking into a house on that street,” said Aloi, who doesn't think that kind of crime is taking place in her neighborhood now but worries about other areas of the city.

Residents and former police agree that making people feel safer in Atlantic City needs to start on the streets.

The need to foster a better sense of safety and improve police and community relations was stressed in a report released last year by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy.

The plan, which aims to strengthen the city’s government and community partnerships, says residents want more done to provide a law-enforcement presence that is “visually reassuring.”

In light of that, the department plans to hire more officers and reposition the ones they already have through a new community policing initiative set to start early this summer.

“Just having that police presence I think keeps a lot of the people away,” said Ian Pullman, manager of Wood's Loan Office in the 1700 block of Atlantic Avenue. He said police had recently been coming inside the pawn shop and signing a sign-in sheet, aiding what he sees as a decrease in loitering and drug dealing outside.

Michael Mason, an Atlantic City police officer for 25 years who retired in 2017, once made it a point to park his patrol car outside this local business, which rests in an area he called an “open-air drug market.”

 

He said people loitering outside Wood's would leave when his car was around but would return when he had to leave for a call.

In 1994, The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority introduced the “cop next door” program, a $5 million program that offered officers 35 marked police cars for them to take home along with low-interest mortgages as incentives for them to stay in the city.

At the time, about 25 percent of the city’s 400-member police force lived in the city. Under New Jersey law, cities may not impose residency requirements on police officers to force them to live where they work.

Now, Atlantic City has about 252 officers for a year-round population of about 39,000, plus millions of seasonal visitors who stay in the resort each year.

Retired Officer Connie Hackney, who grew up in the city and still lives there, said he was one of the last officers in the program to have a patrol car parked in his driveway in Chelsea Heights.

“The cars gave exposure,” said Hackney, who served in the department from 1998 to 2017. “You have police cars in your neighborhood, it gives a little image. It helps a little safetywise.”

While marked police cars provide visibility, residents call for even more of a return to basic policing, urging that officers “walk the beat” and patrol on foot.

"Perception is reality," Pullman said. "Just being able to see one police officer, more often than not, walking the beat, that gives the impression that things are safe."

Mason and Hackney both said that when there were more police, they had more time for face-to-face interactions with the community.

Hackney rode a bike he kept on his patrol car around neighborhoods when he had the time. It was something he took pride in.

But with less manpower and a city under a tight budget, this downtime got shorter and shorter.

"You got to get to these calls because your boy might be in trouble, your girl might be in trouble," Hackney said. "If you do nothing else in patrol, you get to that call."

More voices discuss public safety in the city

In 2018, police were called 8.5% more than the prior year, for a total of 109,536 calls.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority agreed in March to provide $1.5 million a year for five years for the Atlantic City Police Department to hire 15 officers. These officers will replace veteran officers, who in turn will be assigned to the city’s six wards in pairs, along with three officers who will be assigned to addressing vagrancy and homelessness in the Tourism District, said White.

“They will be more proactively engaging in the community — both residential and business communities,” police Chief Henry White said in March. “They will be getting problems solved. We are going to take veteran officers who know the terrain of the city and know how government operates.”

The initiative is based on a 2015 neighborhood policing plan implemented in New York.

New York police assigned two specially trained "neighborhood coordinating officers" in each sector — areas redesigned to look more like existing neighborhood boundaries and less like uniform precincts. NCOs answered calls part of their shifts but served primarily as community contacts and monitored neighborhood crime trends.

CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said the plan aims to address quality-of-life issues. Along with stationing police in neighborhoods, they plan to reach out to organizations that work with people in need of social services to include them in policing.

CRDA currently invests $3 million a year into the Police Department and contracts 45 Class 2 officers, Doherty said.

"I think you'll start seeing a difference this summer. It may take another full year to get everything up and running, but I think you'll start seeing the impact," he said.

Longtime resident Victor Jenkins, who lives on Ocean Avenue, wants to see an officer walking on his street, especially during the night and early morning hours.

“The approach has to be presence and persistence of presence," Jenkins said. "That's the way to solve the problem."

Year Violent Crime Rate per 1,000 Nonviolent Crime Rate per 1,000 Total Murders
1990 38.1 372.6 14
1989 34.5 397.8 15
1991 38.0 366.7 15
1992 34.1 325.6 8
1993 35.4 279.0 11
1994 28.0 227.6 9
1995 26.5 263.8 15
1996 24.3 263.1 11
1997 22.1 255.6 12
1998 18.5 219.9 14
1999 16.8 221.5 5
2000 13.4 172.5 11
2001 15.5 163.9 7
2002 18.5 137.4 5
2003 15.5 134.5 5
2004 17.5 125.8 5
2005 19.0 121.6 9
2006 20.4 112.3 18
2007 22.2 96.6 7
2008 16.9 73.8 11
2009 21.3 83.0 11
2010 20.7 89.8 11
2011 17.5 80.3 13
2012 17.9 75.6 18
2013 17.7 74.7 3
2014 13.7 73.9 6
2015 15.9 75.6 7
2016 12.5 58.8 12
Data provided by: New Jersey Municipal-County Offense & Demographic Data

HEALTHMarch

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How can Atlantic City keep people from falling through health care cracks?

Within these 48 city blocks, men, women and children are falling through the cracks of health care.

People are dying from overdoses at alarming rates. Mothers and their unborn babies, especially in families of color, risk delivery complications and possibly death. And poor lifestyle, exercise and nutrition habits have led to higher than average obesity rates, which creates additional health risks.

Under a state takeover since November 2016, this city is facing a mountain of issues, from blight to unemployment and poverty, but no less important has been the struggle to improve the health of its residents. Identified as a priority, state, county and city officials, along with medical partners, are addressing the city's health issues.

In February, The Press of Atlantic City began reporting on those critical issues, focusing on blight. March's spotlight focuses on the health of the city's residents.

Like many stubborn social issues, the problems are often intertwined.

A July report by Leslie Kantor and other researchers at Rutgers School of Public Health found that deaths related to chronic illness and gun violence exceed state averages and rates in other major New Jersey cities.  The city’s rate of infant mortality—about 10 per every 1,000 births—is one of the highest in the state, according to the Department of Health.

Black infants are even more at risk, where babies born to mothers from the city are dying at a rate five times higher than the state average.

Addiction, along with mental illness, poverty, trauma and stress, are linked to the city’s significant homeless population, said Laura Rogers, chief program officer of Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

The data and research has been used by state and local leaders who say it’s critical to work together to find ways to reduce poor health outcomes and improve quality of life for residents.

These problems are all taking place in a city where most residents live no more than two miles from a level II trauma center and hospital.

Primary care offices, specialty care providers, wellness center and social services agency are also close by.

But those facilities may not be the solutions to the most pressing issues.

“What is happening here and nationally is that larger health systems recognize that we need to look at things differently,” said Lori Herndon, AtlantiCare president and CEO. “Having an acute care hospital is great, so if you have an accident or a stroke, we’re there for you, but there’s so much we can do in partnerships for the community on what to spend more time, energy and money on.”

Rogers said customized care plans, direct outreach and wraparound services for things like housing, transportation and nutrition are the answer, not traditional approaches.

“If you don’t have a healthy home situation, how can you have good health?” she said. “The hallmark of our work has been meeting people where they’re at.”

In the end, improving the health of the city and its residents will be a collective effort.

“We’re all in it for the same reason, which is to improve the health status of the community,” Herndon said. “We collaborate, and there’s always more to do. It’s been relevant to align everyone, more so in this last year and few months, so we can get more done if we work closer together.”

Key indicators for black births 2016

BlightFebruary

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Blight in Atlantic City: Will it ever end?

When the TV news show 60 Minutes came to town on the 20th anniversary of legalized gambling here, Atlantic City was booming — beating out Las Vegas for gaming revenue.

But the show focused on neighborhood blight.

“The casinos are surely happy. But the business district has gone belly-up,” said Morley Safer in the episode called “Raking It In.” “No streets of gold, just seedy pawn shops catering to tapped-out gamblers,” Safer said. “Atlantic City is a mecca for gamblers, but a disaster area if you live there.”

More than 20 years after that 1996 show, which asked why the city remained plagued by poverty and urban decay in spite of casinos raking in $3.7 billion a year, the issue of blight is still dogging the city.

A supermarket had just been built in 1996, and city officials pointed to it as a big accomplishment for improving life for residents.

In a moment of deja-vu, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority recently said it is researching bringing another one to town in the next two years.

The 1996 store had closed in 2004, with owners saying theft and vandalism made it impossible to operate there, and the city has remained without one ever since.

Atlantic City first became nationally known for blight rather than beaches after the 1964 Democratic National Convention at Boardwalk Hall. Reporters from all over the nation and world told their readers the resort’s hotels were old, dirty and hot; the Boardwalk full of shoddy merchandise and businesses; and the city a dingy mess.

Today, much of the city has been remade with new housing stock in almost every neighborhood. The shopping center The Walk greets visitors as they enter from the Atlantic City Expressway, rather than the public housing complex called Jonathan Pitney Village that stood there until it was demolished in 1998. Some groups are even looking at turning blight into canvases for art.

But a new type of blight now also welcomes them – the shuttered former Trump Plaza casino hotel, which sits  awaiting demolition.

And pockets of decrepit buildings, rooming houses, and vacant lots still dot all areas.

Vacant homes remain in all of the city’s neighborhoods, complicated by the effects of a national recession, Hurricane Sandy, the casino implosion of 2014, the city’s  continuing financial problems and deepening poverty.

“There needs to be more home ownership,” said Joseph Greenidge, 55, vice president of Greenidge Funeral Home in the Bungalow Park section. That’s the only way people have an investment in a city, he said, and the motivation to keep it clean and updated.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2013 to 2017 only 26 percent of homes in Atlantic City were owner occupied, compared to 67 percent countywide and 64 percent both statewide and nationwide.

Twenty-three percent of the resort’s housing is vacant, according to the Census Bureau.

Poverty has also increased dramatically in the city in the last 50 years, according to Jim Johnson’s report, “Atlantic City: Building a Foundation for a Shared Prosperity.” Poverty jumped from 22.5 percent in 1969 to 37.6 percent in 2016; while the state poverty rate has remained relatively stable, moving from 8.1 percent to 10.4 percent.

The funeral home was started by Greenidge’s parents in 1971 at the intersection of Absecon Boulevard, Drexel and N. Delaware avenues on the edge of Bungalow Park. About a year ago he expanded its footprint with a new administration building behind it on Delaware and Drexel avenues.

He wishes more people would invest, instead of leaving for other towns.

“People have moved out of the city,” he said. “Since (Hurricane) Sandy, when you walk down most blocks of Atlantic City, a home or two has been left empty.”

When his family moved into the neighborhood in 1971, the 700 block of Drexel Avenue was “a pretty block, where trees overlapped and people kept the sidewalks clean,” Greenidge said. Homeowners picked up trash and swept the sidewalks.

Now the block, made up mostly of row homes, is stark and in need of repair, and Greenidge doesn’t even know who is renting most of the homes, he said.

Greenidge sees a lot of people trying to make a positive difference, including civic associations, he said. “But it’s a high hill to climb, at this point.”

The Venice Park Civic Association is one group trying to address blight in their neighborhood, to the south of the White Horse Pike entrance to the city on the bay.

It has waterfront properties on canals and the bay. About nine of its homes were lost to the Atlantic City- Brigantine Connector tunnel, finished in 2001, that links the Expressway to the marina district. Homeowners fought to keep their properties in the 1990s, pointing out the tunnel was disrupting one of the city’s most stable neighborhoods.

“We had five feet of water during Hurricane Sandy,” said Fred Granese, a retired Atlantic City fireman who lives in Venice Park and is vice president of the Venice Park Homeowners Association. “Charlatans rolled the older folks — took their money and ran — didn’t do the work.”

So a lot of people just walked away from their houses, he said.

Now the association has mapped out those vacant properties, trying to determine which ones are salvageable and which need demolition, said Michael F. Johnson, the Housing Redevelopment Committee coordinator for the association.

Here's how Atlantic City identifies abandoned homes, step-by-step

Is there blight in your neighborhood? Here’s how Atlantic City identifies abandoned homes, step-by-step.

  • An initial abandoned property list is published in the newspaper, and it is continually updated.
  • The city sends a notice to the homeowner and any mortgagee, servicing group or property tax processing organization with 10 days of the list being issued. If the owner is unknown, a sign is posted on the building.
  • Copies of the notices are filed with the county clerk and sent to utility companies servicing Atlantic City.
  • An owner or lienholder can appeal their inclusion on the list within 30 days of receiving the certified notice or 40 days from when it was sent. A hearing is then scheduled.

Is a house in your neighborhood abandoned?

A house is considered abandoned if it has not been occupied for at least six month and:

  • Has been deemed unfit for human habitation
  • No rehabilitation work has taken place in the last six months
  • At least one installment of property tax is unpaid
  • The condition of the property increases fire risks to the property and surrounding homes
    Trespassing occurs, leading to “health and safety hazards.” The owner has not taken measures to secure the house.
  • Vermin, debris, uncut vegetation or physical deterioration are present
  • It has a “dilapidated appearance” that “affects the welfare” of those living in the area

“It has to be done by the city and state in partnership,” said Johnson, who retired from Atlantic Electric and has lived in Venice Park since 1973, of the actual demolition and rehabilitation and its financing. It is outside the reach of a homeowners’ association, he said, but the group is more than willing to help gather information.

The group has met several times with the city’s Director of the Department of Licensing and Inspections Dale Finch, and with city council members and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

The homeowners want the city and state to develop a plan to deal with vacant property citywide, not just in their neighborhood, and to finance needed demolition.

They also say they need regulations on short-term housing rentals, like AirBnB; the development of bike paths and other ways of connecting their neighborhood to the Boardwalk and other parts of the city; and relief from high property taxes that discourage people from moving to the city.

Greenidge also wants to see more business development in the city, so residents will get the advantages of an urban area. Right now, he doesn’t even consider the city a real urban area, he said, since it lacks basic services and businesses like supermarkets.

Before moving to Drexel Avenue, the family lived on Arctic Avenue, in a block that included about 10 businesses, he said.

“Now you’d be hard pressed to find 10 businesses in 10 blocks,” Greenidge said of his old neighborhood.

Is a house in your neighborhood abandoned?

A house is considered abandoned if it has not been occupied for at least six month and:

  • Has been deemed unfit for human habitation
  • No rehabilitation work has taken place in the last six months
  • At least one installment of property tax is unpaid
  • The condition of the property increases fire risks to the property and surrounding homes
    Trespassing occurs, leading to “health and safety hazards.” The owner has not taken measures to secure the house.
  • Vermin, debris, uncut vegetation or physical deterioration are present
  • It has a “dilapidated appearance” that “affects the welfare” of those living in the area

Here's how Atlantic City identifies abandoned homes, step-by-step

Is there blight in your neighborhood? Here’s how Atlantic City identifies abandoned homes, step-by-step.

  • An initial abandoned property list is published in the newspaper, and it is continually updated.
  • The city sends a notice to the homeowner and any mortgagee, servicing group or property tax processing organization with 10 days of the list being issued. If the owner is unknown, a sign is posted on the building.
  • Copies of the notices are filed with the county clerk and sent to utility companies servicing Atlantic City.
  • An owner or lienholder can appeal their inclusion on the list within 30 days of receiving the certified notice or 40 days from when it was sent. A hearing is then scheduled.

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Credits

Based on reporting by: David Danzis, Michelle Brunetti-Post, Avalon Zoppo, Colt Shaw, Claire Lowe, Molly Bilinski, Vincent Jackson, Amanda Auble

Visuals: Gail Wilson, Krishna Mathias, Lauren Carroll, Edward Lea, Craig Matthews

Editing: Nicholas Huba, Emily Lingo, Dan Grote, Gail Wilson, Mark Melhorn

Supervising Editors: Kris Worrell, W.F. Keough

Design & Development: Mike DellaVecchia

Sources: Atlantic City Department of Licensing and Inspection, Atlantic City Police Department, New Jersey Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. 

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