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Small declares emergency at Atlantic City Housing Authority

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Atlantic City Hall hosted a Harvest Festival on Wednesday, featuring a costume contest, candy, resources and music. Video by Matthew Strabuk, for The Press.

ATLANTIC CITY — City government is providing trash collection and other services to nine large Atlantic City Housing Authority properties on an emergency basis, as the authority works to regain autonomy from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Citing “deplorable and horrific” conditions including broken elevators and laundry room equipment, rising mounds of uncollected garbage and infestations, Mayor Marty Small Sr. said Thursday the city was taking action to help residents of the Housing Authority properties.

Officials also called on the federal agency that oversees the Housing Authority to address how its zero-threshold program is harming residents.

“In a nutshell, (zero threshold) means they can’t buy a pencil without getting approval from the federal government,” Small said Thursday during a news conference at City Hall. “No residents deserve to live like residents are living now.”

A HUD spokesperson confirmed the local Housing Authority’s zero-threshold status.

“The Atlantic City Housing Authority submitted its expenditures today, allowing HUD to approve them this afternoon so that payments can move forward,” Olga Alvarez said in an emailed response to questions.

But she also said that while the authority has been placed on a zero-threshold status and HUD must approve all expenditures, “the Atlantic City Housing Authority continues to have autonomy in its operations.”

Early Thursday, public works crews were picking up trash at Stanley Holmes Village, where it had so overflowed containers it was blowing around the housing complex.

Residents, who declined to give their names for fear of retribution, said trash hadn’t been collected in weeks.

They also complained about a lack of hot water and heat.

Small said he had seen evidence of lack of trash pickup, bedbug infestations, lack of heat and hot water, and nonworking laundry facilities.

The Housing Authority provides affordable housing to low-income families, senior citizens and the disabled.

Small said there were problems with the Housing Authority, which is independent from city government, and now the authority cannot renew contracts or go out to bid for services without HUD approval.

HUD needs to move more quickly to make sure residents get services like trash pickup and pest control, Small said.

“We want HUD to understand that behind their policy there are people suffering — senior citizens and disabled people,” Small said. “It’s extremely important our residents don’t live like that.”

Small said the “zero threshold” implemented by HUD has been in place since July 2021.

“We write to inform you that, due to the instability of the management of Atlantic City Housing Authority and our belief that Federal funds may be in jeopardy, we have placed the ACHA on ‘Zero Threshold,’” said a July 1 letter to then-board Chair Nicole Gupton from HUD Director of the Office of Public Housing Theresa Arce. “This means that all functions of the agency will now be under HUD review effective from the date of this letter.”

Housing Authority board Chair Stephanie Marshall, who is also a city councilwoman, said HUD never communicated with the board about problems until that July 2021 letter.

The letter arrived about two months after the previous longtime executive director, Tom Hannon, resigned. Hannon could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The letter said all personnel matters, expenditures, procurement and contracts, capital fund program activities and operating subsidies would need to be cleared by HUD.

“We anticipate the turnaround time to be about five days,” the letter said.

But Marshall said delays have gone on for weeks.

“Since August with the new interim executive director, HUD has not approved our bill lists for September and October, basically forced us to cancel regularly scheduled meetings,” Marshall said. “There were no agendas because HUD had not approved anything. There is no way to even have a meeting.”

Marshall said it has forced the authority to partner with the city.

“It’s not for free, the Housing Authority will be paying the city,” Marshall said. “Nothing will fall on taxpayers.”

In late August, HUD said the Housing Authority hired John Clarke as part-time interim executive director to run its nine communities.

Clarke said HUD appointed him to help it get the Housing Authority back on track.

“Unfortunately the contracts for (certain) services expired,” Clarke said. “Contractors were helping on a monthly basis, but that is not permissible.”

So the city has agreed to step in until new contracts can be awarded, which Clarke said usually takes about 60 to 90 days.

“I’m part-time interim executive director, holding the place to try to get it back on solid footing,” Clarke said. “I’m also working to procure and hire a permanent director.”

REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post

609-841-2895

mpost@pressofac.com

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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