Land Bank kicks off 9th Street renovations in Wilmington

This rendering from Breckstone Architecture shows the planned new construction on Wilmington’s W. Ninth Street.
This rendering from Breckstone Architecture shows the planned new construction on Wilmington’s W. Ninth Street.

By Ken Mammarella

Some important numbers were announced on June 4 for the planned revitalization of the 800 block of W. Ninth St., part of Wilmington’s Trinity Vicinity historic district.

Development costs for six major renovations and three new town homes will top $2 million, with renovations expected to be completed by March and construction expected to start next year.

The homes will be available to buyers who agree to live there for at least five years before selling, with “affordable” prices set at 80 percent of the area’s average median income, according to a release from the city and the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank.

But the “cost of renovation and new construction outweighs the resale value,” said Bill Freeborn, executive director of the land bank. That leaves a $40,000 to $50,000 gap, covered by a $500,000 commitment by JPMorgan Chase.

The payoff is in increasing the block’s percentage of homeowners. Once that figure tops 50 percent, real estate values increase and crimes decrease, according to Rick Gessner, chairman of the land bank. “Most inequities revolve around homeownership,” he said.

“When homeowner occupancy declines, apathy rises,” said Alvin Hughes, a resident of the block since 1996 and vice president of the Trinity Vicinity Neighborhood Association. “We’re not against renting. We’re against speculators converting homes to multifamily use and not maintaining them.”

Houses at 808, 810, 812, 818, 819 and 820 will be renovated. A small house at 825 will be demolished and replaced, and two houses will be built on adjacent vacant land.

Also boosting the block: the Wilmington Housing Authority is working on 815 as a rent-to-own home, and the land bank and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition will help homeowners improve their facades.

“Our goal is to bring together people, ideas and money to create a new Wilmington,” Freeborn said, noting he favors rezoning to allow for live-work spaces, such as stores.

The project, which covers a third of the homes on the block between North Adams and Monroe streets, is covered by a JPMorgan grant, support from the Delaware State Housing Authority and construction financing and funding through the coalition.

The news generated cheers up and down the block.

The Model Cities Motivational Center, created 50 years ago to improve the neighborhood’s quality of life, has a plan to resume programming at its 800 W. Ninth building, said president Dwight L. Davis. “We’re the flagship of renewal,” he said, noting $300,000 to $350,000 needs to be raised.

“It’s going to be nice,” said Robert Moody, a handyman who’s been renting on the block for two years. “I’d love to have one of them.”

The land bank has 216 properties – mostly homes – in its inventory, and “there’ll never be a shortage of opportunity,” Freeborn said.

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