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Atlantic City's latest pitch: Buy a home here

ATLANTIC CITY - It's not every city where a new homeowner might get a personal thank-you letter from City Hall. But down-on-its-luck Atlantic City is not afraid to show its appreciation.

Atlantic City teacher Salma Hussein, 28, purchased the condominium she previously rented for $150,000.
Atlantic City teacher Salma Hussein, 28, purchased the condominium she previously rented for $150,000.Read moreAMY ROSENBERG/Inquirer Staff

ATLANTIC CITY - It's not every city where a new homeowner might get a personal thank-you letter from City Hall. But down-on-its-luck Atlantic City is not afraid to show its appreciation.

Dear Ms. Mancuso, wrote Planning Director Elizabeth Terenik on personal stationery to a resident who had taken advantage of grants now available to first-time home buyers in Atlantic City.

First of all, congratulations on your first home! Thank you for buying in Atlantic City. We in City Hall are working very hard to be sure your home value increases and you have a great quality of life for your family.

Indeed they are. Terenik says interest is growing in the grant programs available to income-qualified residents ($38,000 for a single person; $54,000 for family of four) who also qualify for mortgages.

"It's a small window," Terenik says of the combination of income cap and credit worthiness, but one that is appealing to professionals like Class 2 police officers, EMTs and teachers.

They are buying homes, mostly for $150,000 or less, in pleasant city neighborhoods like Venice Park, Chelsea Heights, and Ducktown, the latter on a street of new condo townhouses called Formica's Way.

At a noon talk on Wednesday in City Hall, 1301 Bacharach Blvd., open to the public, Terenik will host speakers from home buyer assistance programs, housing counseling agencies, mortgage companies. and each city neighborhood.

The city's struggles to get patrons into empty casinos and money into bare municipal coffers are well known. But city officials say this quieter pitch to fix Atlantic City is gaining momentum: as a place to live.

"I truly think Atlantic City is becoming so much better by the minute," said Salma Hussein, 28, a special-education teacher at Chelsea Heights School, who bought a three-bedroom condo.

Hussein was able to purchase her home with its open kitchen layout, which she had been renting on Formica's Way for $150,000, after qualifying for a $20,000 down payment from the Atlantic County Improvement Authority.

The view off her balcony stretches from the empty Revel to the empty Trump Plaza in the distance, bracketing Boardwalk lights. "It's a really good buy, especially for a person who's young and single," she said. "It's such a good achievement."

Hussein said the only downside is the city's taxes: $5,000 a year. "Other than that, I love the environment here," she said.

Terenik hopes the city's low prices will make up for its high taxes. (There is no tax increase in the 2015 budget.) City officials are hoping the state works out a compromise this week on a package to stabilize its finances.

An earlier plan to give away lots for people to build on was scrapped to focus on inventory already on the market, she said. About six homes a year have been financed with first-time grants over the last decade, but there has been an uptick in interest.

Sheldon Grace, the Realtor who has sold 18 of 24 condo townhouses on Formica's Way in Ducktown, all of them through first-time programs, says prices throughout the city are low, attracting Philadelphia developers in addition to home buyers.

The Ducktown development languished unfinished after a bad bank deal, but was resuscitated two years ago by a Florida investor, Grace said. In a recent $114,000 sale, the owner qualified for $20,000 down-payment grant. Each year, $2,000 is forgiven, meaning that if she stays 10 years, she owes nothing.

A couple in their 50s bought to live in Ducktown, the neighborhood of Angelo's, the White House, and, now, the Walk Outlets, that they loved as children. "It's a great program to get in the door," Grace said. "We have two offers on two other ones. This might close us out."

arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

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