New partnership makes way for affordable housing in Wilmington

Vacant houses in Wilmington were demolished Monday to make way for affordable housing for first-time homeowners.

Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank and the New Castle County Habitat for Humanity will develop six two- to four-bedroom town homes on East 22nd Street.

“There’s always a sense when homes are here, we have to acknowledge the lives and memories that are here,” said Christian Willauer, the land bank’s executive director.

“At the same time, there’s always a time for new beginnings,” Willauer said. “So today, when we take down these buildings, it’s a new beginning for six new Habitat homes to be built for new homeowners, new families, new residents to the city of Wilmington.”

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Prospective homeowners with an income between 30 and 60 percent of the median area income — around $25,000 to $50,000 — are eligible to purchase the homes, expected to be available in 2019, with a mortgage at zero percent interest rate, paying about $650 a month.

“We know if you can get the homeownership rate to at least 50 percent, it starts to stabilize and transform the neighborhoods, making them safer, changing the quality of life,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of the New Castle County Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat has built 39 homes in the area since 2005. Smith said the partnership with land bank is a “new way of doing business.” Habitat owns the lots, while the land bank acquires the vacant homes and is in charge of demolition.

The land bank’s efforts to address blight in the city has been supported by Barclays, which awarded the organization a $1 million grant last year. In addition, the state is providing $645,000 for the demolition and other costs.

Wilmington City Council President Hanifa Shabazz and Mayor Mike Purzycki attended the demolition. Addressing the more than 1,500 abandoned properties throughout the city is one of Purzycki’s top priorities.

“At the end, not only do we see the houses built, but see the new owners of the houses and watch the joy on their faces when they become homeowners,” he said. “The way we have to keep thinking about our neighborhoods is just to rebuild and rebuild them and help folks who want to help themselves.

The Delaware Center for Horticulture and the Nature Conservancy of Delaware also are working with the land bank to reclaim vacant lots by removing debris, seeding and sodding the lot and planting trees.

Pastor Sandra Ben of Praying Ground Community Church said cleaning up the eyesores will make a difference in her community.

“I think it will give this community hope things are being done, the mayor is doing what he said, and things are happening and making us feel better about living in this area,” she said.

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