By MICHAEL BRADLEY
Special to Delaware Business Times
This had nothing to do with the original plan and construction having any faults whatsoever. But 30 years certainly can force even the sturdiest building to require some renovation.
Okay, a lot of renovation.
When Leon N. Weiner and Associates constructed Marydale Retirement Village in Newark three decades ago, it was a strong example of affordable housing for seniors. On March 21, the revamped Village will open officially with 108 modern units for residents and stands as the latest example of LNWA’s ability to work with nonprofits to create — or renovate — projects that benefit Delaware citizens.
“What we did was go in and take it down to the studs,” said Sean Kelly, LNWA’s vice president of development. “We put in modern HVAC equipment, new electric, high efficiency appliances and windows, modern insulation, new siding and aesthetic colors to reflect the neighborhood’s preference.
“We also made significant improvements in handicapped accessibility.”
LNWA worked with Catholic Charities — the property’s owner — on the project, another example of how the company and others in the state are capable of partnering with nonprofits to create affordable residences throughout the state. Kelly estimates that 80 percent of LNWA’s work, which also includes market-price apartments, some single-family homes and hotels, is in the affordable housing area, meaning he and other LNWA managers must be flexible, knowledgeable and able to work with a variety of different constituencies.
“You have to find out how each nonprofit is structured,” said LNWA President Glenn Brooks. “Who makes the decisions, the board or the CEO? There are different structures for each nonprofit. You have to figure out who you’re working with and how to best to partner with them.”
The ongoing relationship between LNWA and the Diocese of Wilmington helped make the Marydale project possible 30 years ago and also fueled the renovation. While this is a solid business opportunity for LNWA and part of its portfolio of affordable housing, the main goal is to create opportunities for people with limited resources to live more comfortably. In addition to the new residential spaces, there is an outdoor pavilion and a community room that includes a kitchen that can host meetings and events large and small.
“It isn’t just bricks and mortar,” Kelly said. “We bring supportive services to the property.”
One of the main considerations for any developer or contractor working with a nonprofit is that there has to be a mission that goes beyond the structures. Creating opportunities for people to grow, work and thrive is part of the package, and since just about everything in this realm is done through a partnership with a nonprofit or government entity, the bottom line can’t be the only focus.
Take the work done by Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for affordable homes throughout the country. In New Castle County, Habitat is finishing three homes — one ranch and a duplex — that have already sold. (Habitat requires a 10-year commitment to stay in the house in return for a zero-interest loan.) In addition to providing three families with homes, it also helps local residents build resumes by working with contractors and learning how to be responsible employees who can be hired again.
Further, contractors who link with Habitat must understand that the financing for its projects comes from individuals, corporate sources but also government agencies, which have some specific guidelines about how their partners should operate. And then there are the volunteers. They have good hearts, but they don’t necessarily have great construction skills. Part of every Habitat contractor’s job is to provide some training to
“Every day, they have to expect 15 people to show up who have never worked in construction,” said Kevin Smith, who has been CEO of the New Castle Habitat for Humanity for 22 years. “Our construction manager has to supervise them.”
New Castle’s Habitat for Humanity focuses on neighborhoods that lack investment and have properties in need of repair or complete rebuilds. Sometimes, the city of Wilmington donates the property, but Habitat relies heavily on donations from a variety of sources to secure the homes it ends up rehabbing. Individual and corporate patrons, churches, the Delaware State Housing Authority and others comprise the donor list.
Habitat even owns a chain of “ReStores,” which sell donated building materials and furniture to the general public and provide a revenue stream. One can imagine that with such a menagerie of benefactors, it isn’t always easy for construction companies to understand all the rules.
Despite that, Habitat and its partners accomplish plenty, from providing residences for families
to helping community members gain work experience.
“Our overall message we’re trying to get out is that it’s imperative that we invest in these areas,” Smith said. “We need to make them safer places to live.”
LNWA doesn’t have to work with a similar menagerie as does Habitat, but it does have a diverse network of partners. And it has certainly faced some challenges. For instance, last July, it began work with Ingleside Homes to convert the H. Fletcher Brown mansion into 35 low-income apartments for seniors. The project took several years to come together and required a state Supreme Court ruling to move forward. Funding came from state tax credits and a $1.9 loan from the Housing Authority. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
“We are determined to our core mission, to build, develop, own and operate affordable housing,” Brooks said. “We spent 10 years working with Ingleside Homes to close the deal.”