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

NEIGHBORHOOD Spotlight

BUNGALOW PARK

HEALTH March

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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.”

Lori Herndon, AtlantiCare president and CEO

Lori Herndon, AtlantiCare president and CEO

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

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Resources for women and families in Atlantic City

Southern Jersey Family Medical Center, 1125 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City; www.sjfmc.org

Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, 605 W. California Ave., Pleasantville; 609-345-6420; info@snjpc.org; www.snjpc.org

AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center maternal health and obstetrics services, 1-888-569-1000; www.atlanticare.org

Oceanside Family Success Center, 201 Melrose Ave., Unit 3, Atlantic City; 609-236-8800; oceanside1fsc.org

Nurse-Family Partnership, through Robin's Nest, 531 Ellis Street, Glassboro; 856-881-8689, ext. 145; twilliams@robinsnestinc.org; robinsnestinc.org

Women, Infants and Children (WIC), through Gateway Community Action Partnership, 139 N Iowa Ave, Atlantic City; 609-246-7767; www.gatewaycap.org

The Leadership Studio, baby and me yoga and breastfeeding support, 161 S. Tennessee Avenue, Atlantic City; 609-300-6447; www.leadershipstudioac.com

AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center also offers a Perinatal Loss Support Group for parents who have experienced miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or newborn death. The group meets the first Thursday of each month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the AtlantiCare Health Park, 2500 English Creek Avenue, Building 600, Suite 602, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. The support group is free and open to the community.

Drug overdoses across NJ in 2018

Individual doses of heroin removed from A.C. streets in 2018

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.

Join The Conversation

Check back each week for more on these central issuesjoin the conversation

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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