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CRDA introduces plan to address ‘overwhelming burden’ of Atlantic City rooming houses

ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority took the first step Tuesday toward implementing a plan that will reduce the number of substandard rooming houses throughout the city.

The authority’s Board of Directors made a preliminary determination of eligibility for a conversion project that aims to either repurpose or demolish rooming houses that are not in compliance with existing laws and codes.

A public hearing on the project will be scheduled before the board’s next meeting in February.

A cost estimate for the project has yet to be determined.

“Providing financial assistance in the form of a loan for the conversion of the former rooming house to other lawful uses can encourage developers to purchase and improve these properties, which will help reduce the overwhelming burden of the (large number of) rooms already in Atlantic City,” CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said.

Both the number of people occupying rooming houses in Atlantic City and their proximity to one another in certain neighborhoods violate city regulations, which mirror those found in the state’s Rooming and Boarding House Act.

The total number of people living in rooming homes cannot exceed half of 1% of the city’s population, estimated in 2018 to be 38,429. The regulations also prohibit rooming houses within 1,000 feet of each other.

An exact number of rooming houses in Atlantic City varies by agency. City records show there are 43 rooming houses, while state records from the Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards list 56 licensed operators. CRDA’s own inventory identifies 53 rooming houses in Atlantic City.

According to CRDA, only 30 of the city’s rooming houses have proper land-use approvals.

Efforts have already been made to address rooming houses in Atlantic City. Doherty said 13 properties have been converted, or the owners are amenable to conversion, while another 10 have been closed or slated for demolition.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. said a 90-day code enforcement review team started its work Monday, with a focus on aggressively ensuring compliance by property owners, including those of rooming houses.

“My administration is going to continue being a willing partner to keep Atlantic City clean and fix up this mess that we have,” Small said. “The goal is to have Atlantic City in the best position possible.”

CRDA Chairman Robert Mulcahy said the collaboration between CRDA and city officials represents a “real effort to bring this whole issue under control.”

“I think this is an important initiative that will get to the heart of the quality of life here,” Mulcahy said.

Some of the structures that are convertible may be turned into workforce housing where the opportunity presents itself, CRDA Vice Chairman Richard Tolson said.

CRDA is looking to work with social service groups, such as Volunteers of America and Jewish Family Service, to assist with relocating residents who are displaced as a result of the project.

In other board business, Jewish Family Service was designated an additional provider for CRDA’s traveler’s assistance program, along with Volunteers of America. In five years, the program has successfully relocated 200 homeless people per year, according to the CRDA. The designation for JFS allocates funding for relocation services not to exceed $100,000.

The CRDA Board of Directors also approved amending its financial assistance to the Atlantic City Initiatives Project Office. The office, which was formed from a recommendation contained in the state’s 2018 Atlantic City transition report, was initially awarded $1.35 million for three years to pay for state Department of Community Affairs staff. The funding failed to cover salary and fringe benefits for the staff, so an additional $150,000 annually was required, DCA Deputy Commissioner Rob Long said.

Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall and the Atlantic City Convention Center will get IT infrastructure upgrades, an action that is “sorely needed,” Small said. The $2.3 million project will replace the 10-year-old hardware at both facilities.

Contracts for asbestos abatement at Boardwalk Hall and concrete services for the two CRDA-owned buildings, both on an as-needed basis, also were approved Tuesday.

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