New Castle County cuts vacant properties in half through new initiative

The northern Delaware county cut vacant properties 53% since 2017 through the Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative.

Matt Meyer signs a check held by several other people in front of a new home.

Matt Meyer signs the $1.7 million of government revenue going towards New Castle County school districts. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The number of vacant properties in New Castle County peaked in 2017 at 1,350, according to county officials. Since then, the Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative has worked to reduce those vacant locations with much success. In six years, the number of vacancies has dropped 53%.

This week, County Executive Matt Meyer celebrated the completion of the latest vacant property to be transformed under the program, a spot in Minquadale that will be used as a transitional home for young women aging out of foster care.

New Castle County’s executive Matt Meyer speaks at a podium
New Castle County’s executive Matt Meyer announced the transformation of a vacant property to a transformational house that’s located behind him. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“There are over 700 properties we’ve now done like this on my watch,” Meyer said. “This starts by identifying a problem, a problem of delinquent housing stock in neighborhoods not just here in Minquadale, but across the county, really the city of Wilmington, the state, and to some extent the country.”

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Due to its condition,  property buyers overlooked this space. The partially collapsed roof held a considerable liability, and the expensive delinquency rate discouraged buyers.

A kitchen with deteriorating cabinets
The kitchen of the vacant property before it was redone. (Courtesy of New Castle County)

According to Meyer, the Department of Purchasing decided to run a bid and sell the property for zero dollars to bring a change to the community. The buyer was a nonprofit called Duffy’s Hope, run by CEO and founder Duffy Samuels. He plans to use the location to help address homelessness in line with mission.

“I’ve seen a lot of homelessness with teenagers and kids over the age 18, young adults, so it was mainly my focus to try to help with the homelessness here in the state of Delaware,” Samuels said.

Four young women aging out of foster care will take up residence in the space, working closely with case managers to develop a plan to get them on their feet and learn the ways of independent living.

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A new kitchen in a house
Kitchen of the transformational house. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“Our goal is to help them get their GED or a high school diploma, also help them get an education in college, and help them prepare for the workforce. And then also help them with their mental health,” Duffy said.

In addition to help from Duffy’s Hope, the young women will have the opportunity to pursue a college education tuition-free at Wilmington University.

Part of the money generated from the county’s efforts to transform vacant properties into contributing to the tax base will go to school districts across the county.

“The 700 properties have generated over $3.4 million of revenue for the government,” Meyer said of the program’s financial impact. “$1.7 million has gone to help our schools.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony and the official opening of the transitional house are scheduled for September.

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