We had a much stronger turnout at the last community meeting. And we gained yet another perspective from a resident who rents here. When you think about the need to increase residency you have to think in terms of the rental market too. What he stated is that working families cannot afford to rents that approach $1400 / month; even a small business owner like himself. So there’s another barrier to residency we have to solve. He also stated that working families working service sector jobs are not being reached by our political organizations and are not being represented … that the people who run for office and do vote are often a minority interest. If you don’t think that the people who rent here are important to this community think again. These are people that live here.
Another barrier to residency is the lack of jobs. And the need for smaller more affordable housing is being brought up again and again. “We’re turning into an overgrown Avalon. We once had a community here with things for the residents to do but affordable housing is being torn down for oversized vacation homes.” He also objected to an overgrown police force that enforces traffic laws for motorists but not for bike riders or pedestrians. I don’t get the feeling he thinks positive change is possible here, and concluded he was wasting his time. It’s a shame so many people feel that way about this town. I don’t. We can do something about it if we want to.
Another resident complained about overpriced vacation rentals and the density of occupancy that is being created as a result. “It’s a living hell for the residents of this town in the summer time.” People who pay that kind of money to vacation here aren’t overly concerned about the noise and trash they create. They leave their sense of personal responsibility at home. There’s not enough parking. And for what they’re paying they must assume it’s up to someone else to clean up their mess.
It was also stated that there’s a tradeoff between the density of development and the affordability of housing. I think it’s a good point but what I see is greater density without significantly greater affordability. And if all we’re building is more affordable vacation homes is that what we really need? To be fair you can’t dictate the type of ownership. But there’s also a greater profit margin in denser development and I do think its profitability that drives development here and unfortunately zoning too. The comment came from someone who would know so who am I to question it? I’m just not sure in practice it’s having the intended result. We’ll see how Coastal Cottage works out.
Another resident (who is likely to become a candidate) stated that New Jersey is at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting retirees because pension payments are taxed in this state. And everyone knows how high our property taxes are. Add that to the cost of home ownership and it’s a triple whammy. He also stated that modular housing is not that much cheaper than conventional (stick built) housing. He and his wife were forced to rebuild as a result of Sandy and looked into it. It was good to get his insight. Some of these are issues for Trenton to resolve.
Much of the conversation turned to Sandy and the plight of the property owners. There was speculation as to what effect increasing flood insurance premiums will have on Ocean City particularly for second home owners who are likely to be hit the hardest. It was stated that not enough of the relief money is trickling down to the home owner. That too many homeowners still can’t afford to rebuild. No question there will be significant turnover. Is our government doing enough to help existing property owners? I hate to say this but I think it true. Sandy is being looked at as a business opportunity by some people. There’s too much pressure to sell out where the cost of remediation and compliance is too high. When you change the zoning code and make existing homes non-conforming you reduce the value of those homes, and in some cases adversely affect the ability to borrow against them, making it even more likely that property owners will opt to sell out. So there’s the issue of complying with FEMA and its requirements for flood insurance (which is your choice as to whether or not you want to comply) and then there’s the City that is forcing the issue and raising the bar for property owners who do want to rebuild. There are cost of compliance issues here we need to be sensitive to.
We also heard stories from people who got caught in a web of bureaucracy in their attempt to get help and who became stuck in an infinite loop, and found that in spite of their efforts they were no further along than when they started out. I proposed once before that someone from the City be identified as a resource that people can turn to for help, not just for Sandy related issues, but with the local bureaucracy that is also at times impenetrable. Too many people are falling through the cracks. And they’re ill-equipped to deal with FEMA and the DCA on their own.
There were other topics of conversation but I’m running long. It was stated that the requirement of the city to install lawn sprinklers could be illegal and that if they were going to require sprinkler systems for new homes they should require them within the home as a fire prevention measure. In case you haven’t noticed new home construction is going up up up. And if you’re 50% damaged that’s just one more added cost of compliance when you rebuild. A call was also raised for a citizen review board for our police department similar to what Atlantic City is contemplating. A comment in response was that police officers should be on any review board. That makes sense to me. What is important to the commentator is that there is some kind of independent review, particularly in matters of public safety.
Additional comments once again had to do with over development. This theme keeps reverberating. It was stated that flooding on this island (even tidal flooding) is worse than it’s ever been. That statement was made by someone who was born and raised here and has lived most of her life on the island. Finally it was stated that there are existing programs to assist younger home buyers. So if we’re serious about attracting younger families we should be promoting those programs. Maybe the realtors do (I don’t know.)
There have been two meetings so far and many issues have been advanced. The next gathering will again be at Starbucks in Ocean City, February 16, 2:00 PM.