Lottie Lee would not be deterred from her mission. As the executive director of Be Ready Community Development Corp., Lee is leading a vision of transforming a block of vacant buildings into new homes and business space for her community in Wilmington’s Hilltop neighborhood.
Mayor Mike Purzyicki says he tried to warn her that it was a tough challenge when she came to his office to pitch the idea.
“I start peppering everybody with questions, cross-examining everybody, because I know how hard this is,” Purzycki said. He told a crowd gathered at the corner of Fourth and Rodney streets that Lee had one response to all of his warnings: “She said, ‘Jesus is getting this done.’”
Lee’s determination is paying off. On Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase announced $4 million in funding that will support the project and others like it. The money will be given to Equitable Wilmington — a collaborative group working to help neighborhoods in the city’s west, east and northeast communities — over the course of three years.
“This city has been making meaningful progress, but we know there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Tom Horne, JPMorgan’s market leader for Delaware. “We want to show up in a big way to help address the challenges.”
Lee said the money will help her group develop 18 rental units and 16,000 square feet of commercial space in a block that had been filled with vacant buildings. The project at Fourth and Rodney streets will help rebuild confidence of children in the community.
“The children walk by and they see it and they think that’s the only thing they can have in their community, but no, they can have nice buildings, they can have nice housing,” Lee said. “We call this a catalytic project. We call this a project that will start and let people know that communities can develop quality projects. I went and got one of the best contractors, one of the best everything, because I could not fail at this.”
In addition to Lee’s development, Equitable Wilmington will work to improve the ability of community-based groups to complete projects in their neighborhoods. The goal is to preserve or rehab more than 100 affordable housing units and provide 48 small-business loans totaling $1 million.
The grant money from JPMorgan Chase is part of the bank’s $125 million effort to revitalize neighborhoods around the country. Equitable Wilmington’s proposal was one of seven projects selected out of 75 applicants nationwide.