Habitat for Humanity building 12 new homes after collapse of Wilmington housing agency

The housing agency ran out of money and still has an inventory of more than 100 lots and homes to be renovated or torn down and rebuilt.

A worker puts some final touches on 802 Bennett St. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

A worker puts some final touches on 802 Bennett St. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Nema Bass was living in a Wilmington apartment with mold and a rodent infestation when she learned a friend was buying a home through Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County.

“I saw him get through the program, saw him be dedicated to it. So I gave it a whirl,’’ Bass told WHYY News on Thursday.

The Wilmington University budget analyst took the required financial literacy and home maintenance courses, and did some volunteer work on other habitat projects. Now she’s buying a gleaming new two-story, three-bedroom brick home with a garage for under $200,000.

Nema Bass is delighted with her new home that was built by Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“Despite my challenges, despite all the hurdles, with Habitat guiding me and leading the way I was able to get through it,’’ she said.

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Habitat stepped into the breach for the city after it’s quasi-governmental Wilmington Housing Partnership ran out of money two years ago. Habitat, which relies heavily on volunteers to build and renovate properties for low-income qualified buyers, has taken over 12 of more than 100 lots and vacant or dilapidated homes in the housing agency’s inventory.

The dozen homes, which all have buyers, are on the 800 block of Bennett Street on Wilmington’s East Side, an area beset by poverty, street drug dealing, and gun violence.

Seven homes that are almost completed were celebrated Thursday in a ceremony attended by the buyers, Habitat officials and city and community leaders. The other five are under construction across the street.

“They were kind of at a standstill for about a year, maybe a little bit longer and we took over construction,’’ said Dan Delcollo of Habitat. “They’ve turned out great. Nice design and our homeowners are really looking forward to getting in here.”

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Mayor Mike Purzycki applauded Habitat for “delivering beautiful homes for homeowners who’ve worked hard to be part of the whole process.”

Mayor Mike Purzycki says Habitat stepped up when the Wilmington Housing Partnership went insolvent. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The mayor acknowledged the difficulty of attracting more buyers willing to spend $200,000 to the neighborhood.

“It’s dicey. It really is,’’ Purzycki said. “I mean, you drive around here and you see either two blocks, three blocks down, it’s nothing but boarded-up houses.

“But I think what we’ve got to do is just commit ourselves to taking on this entire block so that people start feeling good about their environment. The key is to be able to do it at scale so it transforms a neighborhood, not just the house,” Purzycki said.

For Bass, a single mother with a daughter who grew up around the block, her purchase will be personally transformative.

“I am beyond excited how this house is going to be,’’ Bass said. “I’m happy about the neighborhood and I know a lot of the people here.”

Antonia Burrus, who also grew up in the neighborhood, is also buying one of the Habitat homes.

Burrus, who works in health care, credited Habitat officials and buyers for helping her succeed in her purchase during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a blessing,’’ she said of their assistance and support.

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