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The Wrap: Housing Crisis, Cannabis Retail, Hospital Safety

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By Herald Staff

Get ‘The Wrap,’ our take on the news of the week, in your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up at https://bit.ly/HeraldNewsletters.

Jan. 22-28

Housing Crisis

A new study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University shows rental housing nationally has never been less affordable. A staggering 22.4 million renter households spend more than 30% of their income on a place to live. Rents continue to rise, evictions increase and the nation is seeing the highest homeless counts on record.

The prospects for home purchase are not much better. Home prices have climbed faster than middle-class family income, leaving fewer options for the average American family to afford to purchase a median-priced home without allocating more than 30% of income to maintaining that roof overhead.

Spending at or below 30% of income for housing is a standard threshold for affordability.

Interest rates are dropping and rent increases are leveling off but the crisis persists. Housing is at a plateau that many working-class and even middle-class families cannot reach without risk to their financial stability.

What about Cape May County? The overall picture is not good and the risk that the county will continue to lose young families is high.

The county has lost long-term rental options for families. The Rutgers State Policy Lab data shows that Cape May County is the only county in the state that lost long-term renter occupied space since 2010. It also is the county with the highest increase in the category of those who must pay 35% or more of income on renter-occupied housing.

The resort character of the county, the pandemic impact on housing values and the increasing attractiveness of short-term rental options have all conspired to put decent affordable housing out of reach for many families. As a result we are losing our young, according to census data.

A 2020 Needs Assessment for the county produced by the county’s Department of Human Services highlighted four main areas of need, with housing topping the list. Across the county the housing burden is a primary area of concern with the study even reporting that 20% of county households experience severe housing cost burdens in excess of 50% of income going to housing.

The county website offers a view of Cape May County’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The plan includes the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing throughout the county. The target audience for such housing goes well beyond the homeless.

Cannabis Retail

The legal purchase of cannabis products is getting easier with retail stores opening at a fast clip in 2023. According to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission there are currently 95 locations, including some remaining medical-only dispensaries, where cannabis is sold. These are spread across 20 of the state’s 21 counties with only Salem County showing no listing.

On the commission’s website, Cape May County is showing just one retail establishment, that being located in West Cape May. But those seeking to buy cannabis products in the county may soon find they don’t have to travel to the county’s southern tip. The municipality that likes to say it is in the “middle of it all” just had its Planning Board grant a site-plan waiver for Massachusetts-based Insa to operate a Class 5 retail cannabis store in Swainton, at the intersection of Avalon Boulevard and Route 9 North.

Earlier in the month Insa received conditional license approval from the state. With Middle Township showing support, the structure that was once a Wawa and then a dermatology clinic will soon enough be selling legal cannabis.

Hospital Safety

The Leapfrog Safety score has become the gold standard for measuring hospital safety. It is a ranking program based exclusively on evidence-based measures of a hospital’s ability to prevent medical errors and avoidable harm to patients. Grades for Fall 2023 have just been released.

The grades used are familiar since they mimic the grade scale used at all levels of education, A through F. Of nearly 3,000 hospitals rated nationwide, 30% received an A, 24% a B, 39% a C, 7% a D and less than 1% received an F grade. In New Jersey 67 hospitals were rated, with 24 (36%) receiving an A grade and 27 (40%) receiving a B grade. There were 16 C grades and no Ds or Fs.

The five hospitals closest to Cape May County did well. Both Inspira in Vineland and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Mainland Campus in Pomona received A grades for the latest rating period. Cape May County’s only acute care hospital, Cape Regional Medical Center, received a B grade. Shore Medical Center and AtlantiCare’s City Campus also received B grades.

Accessing a specific hospital in the Leapfrog list allows those interested to see detailed information across all the measures.

Happenings

Phase II of the Crest Arts Pavilion in Wildwood Crest, funded by a $1.043 million grant, introduces enhancements like pull-in parking, entertainment spaces, botanical gardens, and a bicycle repair station, with construction set to be mostly completed by early to mid-May.

Stone Harbor plans to upgrade the 97th Street playground through a Cape May County Open Space Program grant, aiming to enhance safety, add shade areas, widen the basketball court, and install a public restroom; DeBlasio & Associates will develop the conceptual design by March 1.

Middle Township is clarifying rules for cannabis businesses, proposing a 1,000-foot buffer from schools, child-care centers, places of worship, and addiction recovery facilities, with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Several municipalities swore in new police officers at recent governing body meetings. Lower Township Police Department added two officers to its ranks, North Wildwood promoted one officer to sergeant and hired two patrolmen, and Middle Township swore in two new full-time police officers.

Three congressmen held a hearing on concerns over the US Wind offshore wind farm in Ocean City, Maryland, discussing potential impacts on marine life, tourism, and the fishing industry.

The Lower Township Planning Board approved a subdivision for nine lots on the First Assembly of God Church property, allowing construction of eight homes, despite objections from neighbors about traffic and environmental concerns.

Paulina Banasiak O’Connor, a former aide to Gov. Phil Murphy, has been appointed to lead the newly formed New Jersey Offshore Wind Alliance, aiming to advocate for the wind energy industry in the state and build stronger ties to communities amid the state’s commitment to offshore wind development.

A fire on East Juniper Avenue in Wildwood displaced 20 people, causing nearly $500,000 in damages, with one person suffering burns and smoke inhalation airlifted to Jefferson University Hospital, and one police officer treated for minor injuries; the fire is under investigation by the Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office.

North Wildwood introduced an ordinance requiring beach ice cream and coffee vendors to wear uniforms with matching logos, aiming to ensure a consistent and professional appearance, and mandates the clear display of product prices on carts without handwritten signs or labels.

Two Belleplain residents were arrested and charged with endangering a child after a police wellness check found their residence in deplorable conditions, lacking heat, a functioning shower or toilet, and strewn with garbage inside and outside; both were released pending court proceedings.

Wildwood officials are conducting a thorough search for a new municipal administrator after Steve O’Connor’s contract ended. City Clerk Lisa Brown is currently managing the position.

New Jersey’s 2022 recycling legislation, which went into effect Jan. 18, sets minimum standards for recyclable content in containers and packaging, aiming to create markets for recycled materials. Some manufacturers express concerns about implementation complexities and market analysis adequacy.

Lower Township Mayor Frank Sippel presented the State of the Township, highlighting achievements in 2023, including a budget surplus, increased property value, bond rating upgrade, and various council actions and initiatives.

The Cape May Maritime Museum is nearing completion of the restoration of a 36-foot motor lifeboat, CG-36538, similar to the one in “The Finest Hours,” and plans to make it operational and display it at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Museum.

Spout Off of the Week

Marmora – It’s funny that we lock up items on the shelves but not the criminals who steal them.

Read more spouts at spoutoff.capemaycountyherald.com. 

Spout Off

Belleplain/ Crest – I just moved back to the area to Belleplain, NJ. As a kid, I grew up in Wildwood Crest. There was a boy who was the class clown and loved to dance at parties. We nicknamed him Harry the Dancer. Also…

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Cape May – With the tourist season approaching, we looked forward to the young men and women from Europe coming here for summer employment. They were always nice, bright friendly young people that were…

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Cape May County – Now that Creat Haven Nursing home is Privatized, time for the County Commissioners to focus on the TECH school and Special Services. The former superintendent was going to save somewhere around $600,…

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