Murphy administration pushing vulnerable residents out of their homes
by Alison Burdo, The Press of Atlantic City, | ProPublica
For the better part of the past decade, 108 Albion Place, about a block from Atlantic City’s legendary boardwalk, was a refuge for a dozen elderly and low-income residents. The property manager of the three-story house, a patchwork of tan stucco and weathered white vinyl, hosted friends and family for Sunday dinners of baked chicken, hot wings and macaroni and cheese. In the summer, tenants barbecued on the patio, enjoying the cool night air.
But in the spring of 2021, they said, they found a notice posted on their door: Tenants must vacate by June 30. The date was just six weeks away. The owner was selling the building, along with two other neighboring rooming houses. Together, the three properties provided 42 rooms and two apartments to some of Atlantic City’s most vulnerable residents.
The buyer was a state agency known as the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, an entity established by New Jersey nearly four decades ago to use casino tax revenue to revitalize Atlantic City. And the transactions were all part of a program to reduce the number of rooming houses in the city — an undertaking that officials variously said would reduce blight, improve the city’s housing stock and expand affordable housing.
But since launching the rooming house initiative more than two years ago, CRDA has fallen well short of those goals, while displacing dozens of low-income residents in the process, an investigation by The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica has found. In fact, in some cases, it has made neighborhood conditions worse.
Today, far from the purchase having reduced blight, the three rooming houses remain empty, boarded up, with no signs of activity, while a fourth that the agency purchased last year was demolished, leaving behind a vacant lot overgrown with weeds. In the case of 108 Albion Place, a developer has another year to start construction under its contract with CRDA, but in the meantime the property has become the kind of eyesore that officials claimed they were trying to transform. Earlier this fall, the patio was littered with empty beer cans and condom wrappers, and a makeshift bed of cardboard and old sofa cushions was tucked in a corner.
At the same time, some of the former residents are still searching for stable housing and questioning why they were rushed from the premises in the first place.
“We all took care of each other,” said Nada Gilbert, who moved into 108 Albion Place in 2015 and managed the building in the months following the death of her husband, Wayne, in April 2021.
“The way they went about everything was just wrong, period,” added Nikki Knight, a nursing aide and mother of two who rented there for five years.
The project is the latest in a string of land deals that prioritized Atlantic City’s tourism industry at the expense of local residents. Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018 had attempted to fix that, commissioning a report that directed CRDA to rebuild neighborhoods by investing in housing assistance, among other community needs. And, in turn, the agency pledged to change. Since then, however, it has spent millions of dollars to remove critical housing and social services from the city’s Tourism District, displacing low-income residents, disrupting outreach efforts and leaving additional blight throughout the city’s neighborhoods, the news organizations found. Among the shuttered properties: an addiction treatment center and a soup kitchen.
The effort also included the rooming house deals. In the case of the three properties that included 108 Albion Place, CRDA spent $1.1 million and flipped them to a hotel developer, who expects to command as much as $500 a night during peak tourism season.
Now, in response to our findings, one of the authors of the original legislation establishing CRDA is pointing to the rooming house outcomes and questioning how the agency is using its power. “This kind of activity raises some serious red flags as to how CRDA is operating and should be a wake-up call to legislators in Trenton,” said David Sciarra, who as deputy public advocate helped write the bill creating the reinvestment authority. “They need to do some serious oversight to make sure that CRDA is operating in the best interests of all residents of Atlantic City and not just an investment arm of the casino industry.”
Murphy, who ultimately approves or vetoes CRDA’s spending, declined to comment for this story through a spokesperson, and his office referred all questions to the state agency.
CRDA officials said the agency has limited funds to service a variety of goals, which, under the law, include redevelopment as well as addressing “the pressing social and economic needs” of Atlantic City residents. “You’re trying to hit all of them,” said Lance Landgraf, CRDA’s director of planning and development. “You’re not going to hit every one.” He noted that the agency had spent $4.45 million in recent years to help renovate 153 units of affordable housing, as well as $10.3 million to build student housing at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus. He defended the rooming house project as critical economic development.
“We needed to get those properties cleaned up and changed into a better, more viable use in the community that would promote development, not restrict it,” Landgraf said.
CRDA’s former executive director, Matthew Doherty, who led the agency when the three rooming houses were purchased, agreed.
“The benefits to eliminating the blighted properties and then working with private developers to get them back on the tax rolls as useful properties will reap dividends for generations to come in Atlantic City,” said Doherty, who left the agency in late January. “Trying to enhance neighborhoods, attract private capital and improve the lives of the residents of the city is virtually impossible with rooming houses holding back progress.”
CRDA did not answer questions asking about the current blighted conditions of the properties it had purchased. But when previously criticized by state auditors for the slow return on its investments, the agency said it must be a “‘patient’ investor focused on larger policy goals and objectives.”
Meanwhile, the need for affordable housing in Atlantic City is as dire as ever.
“Where’s the success story?” demands Steve Young, a local housing activist, about the closure of the rooming houses to build a hotel. “Who came up with the concept? We’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled for so long.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
When the New Jersey Legislature created CRDA in 1984, it gave the agency a mission: Use millions of dollars in casino taxes to “address the pressing social and economic needs” of Atlantic City residents. At the time, a quarter of the local population lived in poverty — more than double the state figure — so affordable housing was at the top of the priority list. In fact, in its early years, CRDA was required to dedicate 100% of its funds to the rehabilitation or construction of housing facilities for low- and middle-income families.
And for much of its first decade, the agency did that, adding hundreds of new townhomes and apartments to the city’s housing stock. But the early investment in housing didn’t last, as policymakers sought ways to counter increasing gambling competition from other states. So in 1992 CRDA leaders started to shift priorities, adopting a plan that allowed it to devote tens of millions of dollars to back commercial development: a noncasino hotel to support a new convention center, a new minor-league baseball stadium, roadway repairs.
The following year, the Legislature, concerned about a projected shortage of hotel rooms in Atlantic City, went even further: It amended the law to allow CRDA to allot $100 million for casinos’ hotel projects, effectively permitting the agency to hand casino taxes back to the industry that had paid them. State lawmakers in 1996 added another $75 million to that pot. And CRDA moved quickly, spending nearly as much on hotel expansions in the span of just four years as it had on housing projects since the agency’s launch. Additional money flowed to the industry in 2003, with the creation of a $30 million, three-year Casino Capital Construction Fund, which gaming companies could tap for new hotel rooms, retail or parking facilities or other improvements.
Meanwhile, rents had soared and housing conditions worsened as landlords aimed to squeeze out local residents so they could sell their property to casino speculators. With its focus on supporting the gaming industry, CRDA fell well short of the housing goals that the state prescribed two decades earlier; by late 2004, it had funded the construction of just 1,394 housing units — about half of the original goal. The Great Recession drove rental demand even higher as thousands of Atlantic City residents lost their homes to foreclosure. “Legalized gambling has not fully lived up to its promise as a ‘unique tool’ for Atlantic City’s urban redevelopment,” researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia wrote in a 2009 study. “High rental costs have led to overcrowding, doubling up of households, and an increased rate of homelessness among families.”
In 2011, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that further strengthened CRDA’s relationship with the tourism industry, narrowing the agency’s focus to economic development within a newly created 2.5-square-mile Tourism District. The region included the city’s boardwalk and casinos, as well as the immediate surrounding areas, and the effort was intended to “enhance the cleanliness and safety” of the district. But the district map left out entire city neighborhoods, hindering those areas’ chances to obtain CRDA funding.
The next year, the agency began spending money to remove social services from the heart of the casino-lined Tourism District. CRDA leaders said certain facilities, including an addiction treatment center and a nonprofit’s now-shuttered soup kitchen, gave tourists the wrong impression of the city. “It’s detrimental, I would argue, to the growth and prosperity of the district, for us succeeding in becoming an economic generator for the region,” CRDA’s executive director at the time, John Palmieri, told The Press of Atlantic City.
For its part, the treatment center wanted to move, because it had a long waiting list and needed more space to accommodate more beds. CRDA ultimately directed millions to help the center relocate to Mays Landing, about 20 miles outside Atlantic City. The soup kitchen also agreed to relocate, and CRDA initially pledged $1 million to help it renovate a new headquarters outside the Tourism District. But then the agency reneged on that promise. At first, CRDA said the nonprofit’s contractor, which led the rebuilding of hundreds of New Jersey homes in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, wasn’t qualified. Then, the agency said a revised plan with a CRDA-approved contractor was too expensive. Amid the back-and-forth, city inspectors declared the nonprofit’s Tourism District building unsafe, effectively closing the soup kitchen and suspending meal services.
In the end, CRDA did provide the nonprofit with a $300,000 loan to pay off its mortgage on the new facility, but the group has been unable to raise enough money to complete the renovations that would allow it to restore hot meals.
“It just seems that the state really does more to mess with Atlantic City than almost any other place in New Jersey because we got the goose that lays the golden egg here,” said Rev. John Scotland, executive director of Friends of Jean Webster, which operates the soup kitchen that once served 300 meals a day. For the past two years, the nonprofit has been operating in a limited capacity, handing out boxes of groceries in front of its new headquarters.
Between 2012 and 2016, CRDA returned to funding housing, allocating more than $30 million to residential projects. But it made little difference to low- and middle-income residents. Half of the funds supported NoBe, a 250-unit designer high-rise and the city’s first new market-rate housing in decades; rents started at $1,500, nearly 40% higher than the median rent in Atlantic City. To be sure, because the project received federal housing tax credits, 20% of the units featured reduced rents for households earning 50% or less of the area median income. Nearly all the rest of CRDA’s investment went to two housing projects that never materialized. In one case, CRDA dedicated nearly $10 million to purchasing land that was home to more than five dozen residents in Atlantic City’s South Inlet for new housing that never came to fruition. In the other, the agency set aside $1.5 million for a developer to build 57 semidetached homes outside the Tourism District and $3.5 million to subsidize their sales to low-income buyers. But those plans fell apart when the developer realized the site wasn’t large enough to accomodate the project; CRDA had previously helped fund the widening of a road in the area ahead of a new casino opening, reducing the available land.
Today, a fence surrounds those dusty vacant lots. CRDA did not respond to questions about the failed housing deals.
In recent years, a series of critical audits blasted Atlantic City and CRDA leaders for focusing on tourism while the city’s rates of poverty, unemployment, lead exposure and infant mortality soared to among the highest in the state. “Urban challenges cannot be completely walled off,” said a 2018 report commissioned by Murphy. “Legacy cities that recover include social concerns as part of the agenda for change. Atlantic City must do that also.”
CRDA’s investment choices, however, “often had little to do with the core interests of the city,” the report said.
Agency leaders, in turn, “expressed a desire to focus greater attention on the challenges at its doorstep — the wide range of needs of Atlantic City — and exercise greater discipline in its investments intended to drive economic development,” according to the report.
In the winter of 2020, as CRDA pursued its “Vacant Rooming House Conversion Project,” officials said the initiative would “protect Atlantic City residents by providing improved housing conditions and revitalize numerous properties.” They maintained that the sheer number of Atlantic City rooming houses violated city regulations, which limit the collective occupancy of such dwellings to 0.5% of the total population and mandate that no two be within 1,000 feet of each other. And the substandard condition of many of them endangered their residents, who “constitute some of the City’s most vulnerable residents as they tend to be elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged,” according to the CRDA resolution authorizing the program.
In exchange for giving up their licenses, rooming house owners could receive an interest-bearing loan to demolish the properties or redevelop them into other uses like apartments, single-family homes or mixed-use buildings. To be eligible, the rooming house had to be vacant and located in the Tourism District. “We’re here to help improve the housing stock in Atlantic City,” Doherty, the agency’s executive director at the time, told The Press in February 2020. “This will give us another tool at our disposal to continue to convert these rooming houses into a better form of housing stock.”
Some civic leaders and residents weren’t so sure. Sheila Hull-Freeman, president of the Bungalow Park Civic Association, expressed concern that the rooming houses would be turned into short-term rentals like Airbnbs, which locals say draw overcrowded, noisy parties that impact neighbors. And resident Geoffrey Rosenberger underscored that the properties are homes to people who work minimum wage jobs, according to minutes from the CRDA board meeting.
Nevertheless, the board unanimously approved the program, which also aligned with the priorities of city leaders, who have largely considered rooming houses a blight and a nuisance in recent years, citing violence and drug activity.
But CRDA found no takers for the loan program and soon shifted to purchasing rooming houses itself. The strategy would help the agency “still accomplish our goal of eliminating blight,” Doherty later told a local TV news station.
CRDA, however, ignored two key facts: One, 108 Albion Place and the adjacent rooming houses were not vacant; dozens of people lived there. And two, for many, like Knight and her neighbors, rooming houses had become a critical form of shelter amid the affordable housing crisis. For $800 a month, the single mother rented a one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of 108 Albion Place. The exterior lacked curb appeal, but inside it was clean, safe and affordable — qualities that had been lacking in her last building, which was a hot spot for police activity. Her unit had a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, which served as her teenage son Jeremyah’s bedroom.
It also had a built-in community: Gilbert and her husband, the property managers, were Knight’s longtime friends. The couple would babysit Knight’s younger child while she worked overnight shifts at a local assisted living facility.
Jeffrey Matchett lived upstairs. He had lost his Atlantic City home in 2016, unable to afford the mortgage amid rising property taxes. For $600 per month, he rented a room. It had no frills, just a bed, a dresser, a nightstand, a microwave and a refrigerator. He shared a hallway bathroom. Still, Matchett appreciated the location: From a bus stop on the corner he could easily commute to his job at the local water department. In the summer, Matchett would enjoy the ocean breeze; in the winter, he’d head toward the beach to see the storms roll in.
“I loved it. It was always peaceful,” he said.
CRDA’s first rooming house deal came in July 2020, when it approved the purchase of the Memphis Belle Inn, a 15-room rooming house in the heart of the Tourism District, a mile north of Albion Place. Officials had cited the property, which was owned by another landlord, for bedbugs, roaches, mice and dozens of necessary repairs. When later asked why the agency had selected this particular rooming house, Doherty said the acquisition was part of a larger effort to buy “rooming houses that are considered to be the most problematic from a public safety standpoint.”
The purchase piqued the interest of Michael Scanlon Jr., whose father owned 108 Albion Place and the adjacent rooming houses. While he had previously rebuffed CRDA’s efforts to enlist him in the loan program, he now seemed interested in a new deal, according to emails obtained through a public records request. “I hear that CRDA is purchasing empty rooming houses,” he wrote in a Dec. 16, 2020, email to the agency. “I’d like to discuss a possible sale.” At first, Scanlon floated selling two other properties. But before long, he added the rooming house where Knight, Gilbert and Matchett lived, along with the neighboring properties: 105 S. California Ave. and 106 Albion Place. In an interview, Scanlon Jr. told The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica that once the pandemic started some tenants in his father’s properties stopped paying rent, meaning less revenue for the business. (Matchett and Knight said they always paid their monthly rent on time, while Gilbert, as property manager, did not have a rent payment.)
In mid-May 2021, CRDA officials inspected the rooming houses. Scanlon soon posted the eviction notice at Albion Place, residents said. For some, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Gilbert’s husband had died of COVID-19 complications in April. And Knight had just had a baby, Johari. He was only 10 months old.
“He knew I had a baby,” Knight said of the landlord. “I had, really, no words for him. I still really don’t have no words for him. Honestly.”
Matchett was also in a bind. He looked at the available rental options but couldn’t find anything within his budget. So he tapped his savings and spent $5,000 to buy a 2009 Toyota Camry. For the next month, it would serve as his new home. “I had to do what I had to do,” Matchett said. “I thought about the people that were worse off than me.”
Asked whether CRDA discussed relocation efforts with landlords in the program, Landgraf said no. “That was solely on the owners to deal with that,” he said. “Our direction to them was: ‘We will not buy this with anybody in it.’ That’s as far as I went with it.” In response to questions from the news organizations, Doherty stuck by the approach. “Selling rooming houses to CRDA was a voluntary decision by the property owners,” he said. “I do not believe our purchasing of rooming houses incentivized landlords to evict people.”
Scanlon Sr. did not respond to requests for comment. His son, Scanlon Jr., insisted he and his father did right by the Albion Place residents. Tenants were offered cash in exchange for vacating, he said — Matchett said he accepted $600, the equivalent of one month’s rent — and the opportunity to rent in Scanlon’s other properties. Scanlon Sr. also paid for a few residents to stay in hotels, his son added.
Scanlon Jr. claimed the tenants had “far, far more time than six weeks” to vacate the rooming house, and offered to provide documentation that backed his timeline. But when The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica pressed for the information in several follow-up requests, Scanlon Jr. did not produce it and stopped returning calls.
As residents scrambled to find other places to live, CRDA moved to finalize the rooming house deals.
In July 2021, the agency authorized the purchase of 105 S. California Ave. Known as Treana’s Guest House, the 12-unit rooming house backed up against the rear of the Albion Place properties. Several CRDA board members balked at the cost, $375,000, which exceeded the owner’s most recent asking price. Scanlon Sr. had listed the property on the market for $349,000.
Doherty, CRDA’s executive director, however, defended the deal. According to the board meeting minutes, Doherty said that the property had 60 calls in a year for police service and had public safety issues.
He “further stated that it is difficult to quantify what the value is to clean up the Tourism District and the rooming house issue,” according to the minutes.
Then, in September 2021, CRDA turned to 106 and 108 Albion Place. “Both of these are large rooming houses that have fallen into disrepair and have become problematic eyesores in the neighborhood,” Doherty told board members.
As with CRDA’s July approval of a rooming house purchase, some board members expressed doubts. Debra DiLorenzo, a business consultant and former president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, considered it a poor financial deal. The board was being asked to approve up to $1.2 million for the two properties, an amount that was considerably above market value. Moreover, DiLorenzo worried the agency was setting a bad precedent; the prior year, CRDA had purchased the Memphis Belle rooming house for $250,000 and later agreed to flip it to a developer for just $51,000. At the meeting, she predicted the same would happen with Albion Place. “We are buying high and selling low,” she said.
DiLorenzo then asked Doherty how CRDA picked the properties it wanted to buy.
“Ones that have the most calls for service, ones that are in the most disarray,” he responded. “There are some rooming houses in Atlantic City that are perfectly fine. We are going after the ones that are holding back redevelopment and progress in the Tourism District.”
Landgraf told The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica that CRDA had based those conclusions on a report generated by the Atlantic City Police Department, but both he and the police department declined to provide it to the news organizations. According to records from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, neither property had a history of code violations. And while police records obtained through a public records request show that police had in fact responded to dozens of calls at 106 Albion Place in the past year, they rarely visited the neighboring property; 108 Albion Place had prompted nine calls in that same time period, including a request for an ambulance to treat Gilbert’s husband, who was dying of COVID-19 complications.
In an interview, Doherty downplayed any distinctions between the rooming houses. “They may not have the same calls for service. They may not have any calls for service,” Doherty said, “but they could still be a problematic property in that neighborhood.” He noted complaints from a nearby restaurant about car break-ins in the area. The restaurant owner, however, told the news organizations that he had no problems with the rooming houses and good relationships with the property managers.
At the CRDA meeting in September 2021, another board member, Edward Gant, a former union official, also pressed Doherty on the agency’s selection process. If CRDA is making decisions based on police calls for service, he said, are the rooming houses actually vacant?
The buildings, Doherty said, “are vacant when we purchase them.”
Gant was still unconvinced. “We definitely need to take a long pause and see where we’re going on this,” he said.
Board member Brett Matik, president of her family’s beverage distribution company, agreed. “We all want blighted properties gone in this city,” she said, “but we want to see that there is a method to helping the community and not helping developers.”
Others, however, backed the program.
“Let’s get these places empty, out and done and demolished,” said Mike Beson, a business owner and board member who lives 75 miles north of Atlantic City, citing concerns about criminal activity. (Beson declined to comment when presented with the news outlets’ findings.)
Board chair Modia Butler also supported the rooming house program. “I firmly believe in the public policy goal and think the agency is doing the right thing,” said Butler, a North Jersey-based lobbyist who previously served as chair of the Newark Housing Authority. (Butler did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)
He suggested that the board move forward with a vote and that members convene a subgroup to address their concerns. The three dissenters voted no. But with 12 votes in favor, the deals moved forward.
The agency would ultimately pay $780,000 for the Albion Place properties, county property records show. That was about $100,000 more than the seller’s most recent asking price and $40,000 more than CRDA’s own appraisal. In an interview, Landgraf said the differential was to compensate the owner for the value of the business. “Now that’s created a spot where there’s three contiguous properties that someone is going to redevelop,” he said.
In response to written questions, Doherty also defended the deal. “I believe it was worth paying a ‘Premium’ for these properties because they were a blighted detriment to the Tourism District and stood in the way to making improvements to this neighborhood and the city,” he said. “If we didn’t pay a premium, they would have simply gone to another rooming house landlord and nothing would have changed.”
But Young, the local housing advocate, said CRDA had other options besides closing the rooming houses down. The agency, he noted, has code enforcement powers in the Tourism District and funds police there. “You control enforcement over everything,” he said. “Why would you let it get to that?”
Likewise, Alan Mallach, a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, a Michigan-based nonprofit that advocates for the revitalization of vacant and abandoned properties, said there were ways to preserve affordable housing while addressing the concerns about crime. “If you want to reduce the nuisance,” said Mallach, who was an advisor to the governor’s 2018 report, “Why not buy the rooming houses and resell them to the best available nonprofit operator of rooming houses that you can find so that they would be better maintained?”
CRDA did not respond to questions about the criticisms.
In all, CRDA paid a company tied to Scanlon Sr. a total of $1,155,000 for the three rooming houses, and earlier this year its board unanimously approved selling them to Liberty Hudson, which operates 18 Airbnbs in Atlantic City, including one that was set to host MTV’s “Jersey Shore 2.0” show until the production was paused this summer. The sale price: $150,000.
Ahead of the board’s okay, CRDA leadership noted the group would not seek additional subsidies or financing from the agency beyond the “reduced” price. “We have to hold this developer to the fire,” said board member William Mullen, president of the New Jersey State Building & Construction Trades Council. “Very stringent timelines and make sure this gets done.”
Liberty Hudson partner John Errico said the firm’s sales contract with CRDA stipulates that construction must begin no later than September 2023; workers must make the prevailing wage; the firm should spend more than $1 million on construction, which it expects to easily surpass; and it cannot sell the properties before redevelopment has been completed. Hotel rates, the developer said, are expected to range between $100 and $500 a night, depending on tourist demand. “I understand the optics of it, but I don’t really know what other lever there is for a government agency to pull to solve this problem,” Errico said of the sale of the rooming houses. “It’s like choosing from a bunch of really bad options.”
Offering private real estate developers a deal on property is routine for CRDA. For instance, in 2020, it paid $4.1 million to acquire the addiction treatment center and its separate residential facility in Midtown. A year later, the CRDA board approved selling the center and an adjacent vacant lot to Odin US Holdings for one dollar. The firm proposed developing 56 market-rate apartments at the site, but the sale has not yet closed. A company spokesperson said he expects that to happen this month, but he could not give specifics on a timeline.
Sciarra, the former deputy public advocate, called the rooming house deals “outrageous” and said the community, not the state agency, should be guiding CRDA’s investment decisions. “Their mission can’t be redevelopment,” he said. “It’s the most pressing needs.”
Harriet Newburger, the lead author of the 2009 Philadelphia Fed study, which found that CRDA had prioritized the city’s gambling industry over residents, agreed. “It just looks like the more things change, the more they stay the same in Atlantic City,” she said. “The neighborhoods shouldn’t be treated second behind the industry.”
By the time CRDA purchased 108 Albion Place, its former residents were scattered across Atlantic City. After sleeping in his car for a month, Matchett found a studio apartment in the city’s Back Maryland neighborhood with the help of a nonprofit. And Gilbert and Knight took Scanlon Sr. up on his offer to relocate to another one of his properties, a Westside rowhome that he had purchased for $12,500 at sheriff’s sale in 2018. More than a mile from the beach and boardwalk, the property borders a power generating station and is a short walk from a homeless shelter. The street is prone to flooding, the water rising high enough to cover the home’s front steps.
The two women and Knight’s teenage son share the three-bedroom home and pay $1,400 a month in rent — an increase for them compared to Albion Place, where monthly utilities were cheaper and Gilbert, as property manager, paid no rent. In recent months, though, they’ve been withholding payment because of the property’s poor condition. Knight said persistent leaks already ruined her mattress, and she’s moved her furniture away from the wall to avoid any more damage. On a visit in mid-August, The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica observed the ceiling bulging overhead and the bathroom sink precariously attached to the wall. In the hallway, the carpet had been removed from the staircase, leaving behind staples and other metal fasteners. Both women complained about roaches and mosquitoes, which they say have multiplied because of the standing water in Knight’s ceiling.
Scanlon Jr. did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails seeking comment on Gilbert and Knight’s claims. But after the news organizations’ visit to the property, the sink was replaced and new carpeting was installed in the stairwell, Gilbert said. Then, in late August, Scanlon initiated eviction proceedings against the two women for nonpayment of rent. Knight and Gilbert, who are fighting the eviction, maintain that the conditions are still unsafe.
Knight said her other son, Johari, who is now 2 years old, was continually battling colds and getting bug bites, so she sent him to live with a family friend in early 2022. “As long as he has been at her house, he has not been sick,” Knight said. (Last week, after the news organizations sent a final request for comment to Scanlon Sr. and Scanlon Jr., Gilbert said a maintenance worker showed up to inquire about additional repairs. She said the worker mentioned the letter sent by The Press of Atlantic City and ProPublica.)
On a recent Friday afternoon, the two women sat on the porch, with makeshift pillars propping up a sagging roof, as Johari visited for the day. They thought about their old home, how their landlord made them move out and how CRDA bought the property.
“Why did they let him do it the way that he did it to all of them people?” Gilbert asked. “They let him do it. He used them. He used their name to do this.”