The Flats community in western Wilmington has provided affordable housing since the early 1900s. It was originally built by industrialist William Bancroft who was ahead of his time in his desire to offer his workers an affordable place to live with access to parks and open space.
Today, the neighborhood is in the middle of a massive $100 million overhaul that involves tearing down and rebuilding more than 400 units over ten years.
Bancroft’s great-grandson, Benjamin Lovell called him “amazingly prescient” as state leaders gathered in the neighborhood Monday morning the ceremonial groundbreaking on the project’s third phase.
“I just feel that it’s now our job to carry on what was set up 117 years ago,” said Lovell, who is also chairman of the Woodlawn Trustees, the group Bancroft created to manage his vision of affordable housing and open space preservation in 1901.
“We want to finish what we’re doing. Clearly this is working.”
The third phase of the project calls for replacing 80 aging rental units with 77 new ones. The new homes include 24-hour maintenance, an on-site community center, and free WiFi.
The state has invested $10 million in the project, as well as $3 million in low-income housing tax credits. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and its members Fulton Bank and Wilmington Savings Fund Society contributed a total of $1.75 million.
Phase three is expected to be completed some time next year. The first two phases saw 144 units totally rebuilt. There’s a total of six phases in the master plan.
Just like a century ago, there is still a significant need for affordable housing in Wilmington and throughout the state, said Anas Ben Addi, who leads the Delaware State Housing Authority.
“When you look at the pressure that we have on the rental market, our median income is not able to afford the median rent,” Addi said. “We have a lot of people that are working, but the rental levels are so high, they are not able to afford the rent.”
About 40,000 Delawareans spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing expenses, while 18,000 spend more than 50% for housing, Ben Addi said. The Flats project complements the Delaware’s affordable housing stock, but he said the state needs more.
Dalasini Foster moved his wife and four kids to the neighborhood ten years ago.
“This area was the safest place in the city at the time, and the city was undergoing some bad things at the time we moved up here,” Foster said.
“It’s been neat watching it transpire,” he said of the overhaul the community has experienced. “For someone moving in, they’re going to love it. For someone who has been here and is returning, they’re going to really see the benefit of it.”
The ten-year redevelopment project launched in 2015, but Lovell says there’s more to come once The Flats is finished.
“Once we’ve completed that watch out, Woodlawn is interested in other parts of the city, not just the West Side,” Lovell said.