Rehabbing of homes on crucial downtown corridor under way

Work started in May on a major neighborhood redevelopment project along a primary gateway to Wilmington from Interstate 95 on Ninth Street between North Monroe and North Adams streets.

The Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank (Land Bank) has assembled nine properties in the 800 block of W. Ninth St., and is working with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) and JP Morgan Chase on the project. Property stabilization, roof repairs and interior demolition are under way in advance of restoration of the historic properties that now stand vacant.

“The Land Bank is not in the development business; we are more of a facilitator,” said Land Bank Executive Director Bill Freeborn. “We have some terrific partners on this project who have demonstrated their commitment to Wilmington and its neighborhoods.”

That commitment starts with the NCRC, which has bought, rehabbed, and sold more than 100 homes in Delaware since 2015 as part of its “GROWTH” initiative, which creates new pathways to homeownership for low- and moderate-income (LMI) families. GROWTH purchases, renovates and sells homes through its impact investment-driven NCRC Housing Rehab Fund. The program launched in Wilmington in 2015 and has since expanded to 15 other cities.

“We believe in home ownership,” said NCRC Development Corp. Executive Director Ed Gorman, who said he’s hoping this project only takes six months to complete, although he concedes it could take a bit longer given the number of people and organizations providing input and support.

“This is a major corridor coming into the city,” Freeborn said, explaining that the Land Bank acquired the properties through sheriff’s sales, strategic acquisitions, and gifts. “These are historic properties that should be restored but are now vacant. Like Ed and NCRC, we believe that the city is better off with homeowners rather than absentee owner-landlords.”

“It is wonderful to see the Land Bank moving forward on its mission to stabilize our neighborhoods and provide new homeownership opportunities for our citizens,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki. “What the Land Bank is about to embark upon is what we in city government work to achieve on a regular basis, so we see these efforts as complementing one another. I offer my thanks and appreciation to JP Morgan Chase and NCRC for partnering with the Land Bank and city to make this project possible.”

“We bid on this project (through the Land Bank’s RFP process) because we want to see if we can help bring property values up and it’s consistent with our commitment to the city of Wilmington,” Gorman said. “This opportunity wasn’t typical because it requires a subsidy and there are some neighborhoods where you just can’t do that. We’re taking a chance here (because of the development costs) but we want to help make this area more than a renter-dominant neighborhood.”

Chase has committed $500,000 in “gap financing” since the costs of projects like this often exceed the value of the property. In essence, Chase’s commitment reduces the risk of the project for NCRC.

“At JPMorgan Chase we are always looking for organizations to partner with that will strengthen the stability and vitality of the communities we serve,” said Market President Tom Horne. “This project will help West Center City by transforming blighted properties into affordable, quality homes for its neighbors looking to become homeowners.  We are grateful for the leadership of Mayor Purzycki and Bill Freeborn to continue to drive efforts to revitalize the West Center City, and grow the availability of affordable housing to the residents of Wilmington.”

NCRC’s Gorman said he’s “impressed with the ambition of the Land Bank and this mayor, and we hope this is the first of what will have to be many such investments. I like Mayor Purzycki a lot. He has a smart redevelopment plan, but he needs more money from the banks and community commitment to make it work and shake loose the people who are sitting on deteriorating properties. But I think he has the best shot of anyone I’ve worked with in Wilmington.”

Gorman said GROWTH has committed to building an inventory of affordable, secure home-ownership options for low- and medium-income individuals and families; providing housing and financial counseling to qualified homebuyers; and creating construction jobs and workforce apprenticeship opportunities in those communities as well as providing workforce readiness training.

“Success is achieving a reasonable price and occupancy by owners, not investors,” he said.

This is just one project that the Land Bank is managing to drive home ownership and address vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed properties. It received a $505,000 grant from the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) in May to acquire and demolish 10 or more vacant properties on the 600 block of N. Jefferson St. in West Center City. The project was one of seven statewide that received a total of $3.2 million from Delaware’s Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund.

The Land Bank grant, which was $200,000 more than the Land Bank actually requested, will support the same neighborhood as a project sponsored by Cinnaire Solutions, which received $450,000 for acquisition, demolition, and new construction of nine long-term vacant properties on the 600 block of W. Eighth St. in West Center City. That project is a partnership between Cinnaire and the Delaware Valley Development Co., , a longtime affordable housing developer in Delaware.

DSHA also gave $500,000 to Central Baptist Community Development Corp. (CBCDC) to address and rehabilitate 10 vacant properties in the city’s East Side neighborhood. CBCDC is working on that project with Cinnaire.

“This is a good example of what the Land Bank can accomplish working with the city, NCRC, and JP Morgan to turn around the quality of life and property values in our neighborhoods,” said Land Bank Chairman Rick Gessner. “It’s going to help us accomplish our goal of bringing unproductive properties to become productive.”

– By Peter Osborne

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