Many Atlantic City Residents Feel Caught In The Middle [SERIES]
This is the fourth part of a five-day series exploring Atlantic City’s revitalization efforts. Read the full series here.
Sandra Coles Taliaferro and Cynthia McNeal have spent their entire life living in Atlantic City- and in turn living with the casinos.
They remember when the gaming halls came in and they see first hand the changes taking place with AC, not necessarily for the positive.
Long before the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority stepped into the city, the casinos served as the backbone of the community. They provided jobs and opportunity for the residents, however, Coles-Taliaferro says it’s no more. Now it’s profits over people.
“At one time I’d gave you a very bright side of the casino and as years and time has gone by, it has become blight. ”
Coles-McNeal remembers when casino’s offered an opportunity to get a stable career, but as competition for every gaming dollar tightens the residents feel caught in the middle.
McNeal spent most of her life working in casinos, dealing various card games, calling keno, and doing special events. She was laid off and now, even though she has the necessary experience, finds herself without work. McNeal says casinos favor youth and though she’s not old by any means, she no longer is the youngest candidate in the room.
“I still have a lot of work still left in me, and I cannot get a job.”
Revel and many other casinos promise to hire local residents but McNeal says they attend information meetings about the local hire programs, give their information, but when she goes to apply for work everywhere she goes “isn’t hiring.”
The other thing McNeal experienced is casinos only hiring on three to five year “contracts,” after which employees would effectively have to reapply for their position. The lack of job security makes it difficult to gain any kind of stability in life.
“Where can you go buy a home at and show them that you work at this location and they’re like “wait a minute, you’re only there for like five years. ‘”?
The problem according to Coles-Taliaferro is the casinos are the primary industry in Atlantic City, and when they start adopting these policies there isn’t much residents can do.
“There is no contingency plan working for the casino,” laments Coles-Taliaferro.
“I don’t say the casino’s are evil, I’m just saying the casino’s here in Atlantic City didn’t take care of the people.”
The passing of the S-11 legislation and the strengthening of the CRDA’s authority has created just as much trouble for the residents. While many of the policies from the CRDA benefit the businesses and casinos within the tourism district, Coles-Taliaferro feels the administration “gave away our rights” in the process.
“They’re saying everything they do is to better equip Atlantic City for tourism but to me it should start at home. I don’t mind progress, but progress should have a human factor to it. ”
She is at the center of a fight against one of the CRDA’s initiatives to acquire property in the northern part of the tourism district. Since the S-11 legislation gave the CRDA the authority to regulate zoning laws, they are in the process of using eminent domain to clear land for new commercial and residential development.
Through the CRDA has provided made monetary resources available to the residents that will be displaced, including payments for security deposit and first months rent, as well as money for moving fees and rent assistance, Coles-Taliaferro feels what they are doing is really a form of gentrification.
“They’re taking the land for eminent domain to build parks small boutiques eight hundred thousand dollar homes and their giving you a list of affordable homes that are places that are known as hot spots.”
She also does not have any trust in the CRDA’s promises to provide assistance to residents they displace.
“For everything that they falsely put out there that they got your back and we have affordable housing and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, it’s not true.”
While she understands all of the efforts by the CRDA and Governor to create a flourishing Tourism District, she doesn’t see any of the progress in her neighborhood.
“Maybe there’s more people who come into the area because of Atlantic City but what does it do for Atlantic City if all of the money goes North and trickles back down this way and taxes are still going up, people are still losing their home, people are still being phased out because this casino decides because of their losses last month their going to downsize a whole department.”