Atlantic City New Jersey’s redevelopment plan is keeping the poor on the move. Unfortunately, lower income residence are being forced out of the area.
As Sandra Taliaferro prepares to move out of her apartment to make way for redevelopment efforts near Atlantic City’s newest casino, she recalls the state of the city when she moved there as a teenager more than 50 years ago.
“You weren’t allowed to go across Atlantic past a certain time,” said Taliaferro, who is black, explaining that the city remained partly racially segregated.
Modern redevelopment efforts are having a similar effect, she said. “Now it’s not race; it’s money. You’ve got your side, and I’ve got my side of town.”
At 66, Taliaferro is one of the main critics of the way the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has handled plans to overhaul her neighborhood, which sits in the shadows of the year-old Revel Casino-Hotel.
The battle is the latest conflict here in which low-income or middle-class residents believe developers and officials are casting aside their homes like the plastic houses in Monopoly, the board game inspired by Atlantic City real estate.
Linda Steele, president of the NAACP’s Atlantic City branch, counts more than 500 housing units that have been cleared since the late 1980s to make way for projects including an outlet mall and convention center – a significant number in a city with 40,000 residents.
The marriage of the casino industry and its host city has been complicated since gambling arrived in 1978. After decades of growth, casino revenue has fallen precipitously since 2007. And the city remains a place where signs of poverty co-exist with symbols of excess – limousines zipping past pawn shops and homeless people. The poverty rate is 29 percent, even higher than in 1980.
A group that includes former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal has approval to build a $75 million entertainment complex, and the CRDA is trying to assemble and clear other land to sell to developers. The first step is obtaining about 70 units of housing, mostly in the two-story Vermont Plaza and Metropolitan Plaza apartment complexes. About a third of the families have moved out.
As Revel opened last year, CRDA planned to use its revenue share — 1.25 percent of gambling winnings — to pay for a $50 million bond to buy and clear several blocks. But Revel has struggled, losing money, laying off workers, filing for bankruptcy and changing executive teams.
Many residents received eviction notices with deadlines to leave by last week, but they can stay longer to find suitable places, said Palmieri, who acknowledges they have a right to be angry. Also, when developers ask for financing or other approvals, CRDA requires that they set aside some housing for lower-income residents.
The timing of this redevelopment plan has also been troublesome to some. After Hurricane Sandy ripped through the coast last year, there aren’t enough suitable rental homes, housing advocates say.