Wilmington housing renovation to give residents a chance “to sit on the stoop”

The 800 block of Bennett Street in Wilmington has seen its share of crime and abandoned housing.

Now, the Eastside block wants to change all that in a new public-private initiative dedicated on Monday. The plan calls for 150 new housing units that could bring 400 new residents to the area.

The Wilmington Housing Partnership is coordinating the effort, and is aided by financial support from J.P. Morgan Chase, Capitol One, Citibank, Comenity Bank, and M&T Bank. Officials from the city of Wilmington and state officials, including Governor Jack Markell, D-Delaware were also on hand.

It was the issue of crime and getting people to feel safe in their neighborhood that echoed loudest among the officials who wanted to help, and residents who were glad to see them.

Deputy Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings credited the Crime Strategies Unit in the AG’s office with helping to reduce crime on the street.  She said a positive investment in housing would trickle down to positive results. “If we improve the physical environment we live in, crime will go down,” she said.

Gary Jarrett knows about crime first hand.  The retired real estate agent moved to the block, hoping to effect a positive change. He showed off a four inch scar on the top of his head, the result of a home invasion several years ago. “There has been change recently and people are beginning to notice,” he said.  He said drug dealing had moved from the area, but only by a few blocks.  “People still aren’t coming outside, but they are less afraid.”

Several officials talked about the project in the context of getting people to come back outside “like they used to.”  

The project will take about five to seven years to complete and will be done in three phases. Homes on Bennett and Kirkwood will be done first.  Then the project will incorporate Church Street near Bancroft Elementary school.  The final area is Pine Street and the 11th and 12th Street corridors.

State Senator Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, praised the cooperation of the banks involved. He said the $1million provided by the Chase Foundation was important because it represented an effort that went above their corporate responsibility.  Markell in his remarks said the only such a project could have been completed was in a joint partnership.

Habitat for Humanity will be doing their own work in the Eastside neighborhood. They will build 117 homes.  The Ministry of Caring will add another 33.

Jarrett said the joint effort was “tremendous.”  He added, “it shows off the next wave of corporate social responsibility.”

Following the ceremony, a large back hoe banged several times against the middle of the brick row home.  It knocked out several plywood window and the brick support in between them.  The gaping hole that was left is what many hope is a new era for Eastside.

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