Wilmington aims to clean up West Center City

 Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki announces plans to improve conditions in the city's West Center City section. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki announces plans to improve conditions in the city's West Center City section. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Mayor Mike Purzycki, D-Wilmington, has launched a program that aims to address issues like crime and neighborhood neglect in West Center City.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program in West Center City will use collaborations with multiple partners to decrease crime and clean up the streets.

“We know this will be a monumental task, but it will also be a testament to our resolve to bring as many resources together as possible to reduce crime, blight and poverty, and to produce cleaner streets, better housing, improved health standards, increased living standards and a new sense of neighborhood pride,” Purzycki said.

The Mayor has appointed more than a dozen individuals, including residents, City Council members, law enforcement, non-profits and city and state agencies, to be part of a WCC Working Group to implement the initiative.

The program lists more than a dozen goals, including reducing a variety of crimes, expanding the police presence in the neighborhood, holding property owners responsible for the upkeep of their property, eliminating nuisance properties, reducing trash on the streets by holding landlords responsible to city trash laws, and increasing mental and physical health resources and other social services.

The plan also includes the funding of $1.3 million for the William ‘Hicks’ Anderson Community Center, the city’s only community center. The funding will support reroofing and repainting the facility, repairing leaking pipes and installing a new water treatment system in the swimming pool and installing new lockers and replacing the HVAC systems in the men’s and women’s locker rooms.

The city will increase the presence of police, Licensing and Inspection, Public Works and Parks and Recreation workers to West Center City, which includes the areas of Adams Street to Tatnall Street and 4th Street to 10th Street.

Various public and non-profit agencies in the neighborhood also are participating in the program to stabilize, rehabilitate or demolish properties in an effort to improve housing conditions or remove affliction from the area. The Department of Health and Social Services, the Attorney General’s Office and the Christina School District also will take part in the initiative.

Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker said through the initiative, her department is dedicating resources to ensure community centers extend its hours, as well as focusing on employment opportunities and providing wrap around services through its food stamp program.

“I think we know certain neighborhoods do need to overcome social determents to health, things like jobs, transportation, providing positive reinforcement,” she said. “How we can better work with our community partners who are already building these trusting relationships and working on health issues to use that as a way to build capacity, to allow young people to see they have opportunities and create a sense of ownerships of what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

Purzycki said funding projects will come from reallocating existing resources, and won’t require large incremental costs. The City already has allocated funds to the community center.

Councilman Nnamdi Chukwuocha said West Center City lost its sense of community after it became a “service community.”

“A lot of the problems we face are poverty related issues—crime, violence—and it’s changed over the years,” he said. “For a while West Center City became a service community, where there were so many service organizations, from drug treatment, homeless, you name it. They were housed here in West Center City, and that destroyed our community. It’s going to take a long time to repair that to bring back a sense of community.”

Chukwuocha said residents and organizations have been invested in the community and put forth several ideas to improve it, but there hasn’t been enough investment from City government over the past five years.

“There have been a lot of community projects and organizations pushing forward. We need outside support, not only through the City, County and State, but federal, we need true support to bring forth a lot of these changes,” he said.

“A lot of our drug activities are our proximity to 95. They get off 95, buy their drugs and get back. We know this corridor is all for drug traffic. What can we do about it? It’s those types of issues. All the schools our children attend are struggling, we need support.”

Chukwuocha said he believes the program is a positive step in the right direction.

“I think it’s about accountability, the residents not only holding the mayor accountable, but also the mayor holding the residents accountable,” he said. “We’re all in this together. We all have to roll up our sleeves and do what we can.”

Purzycki said he believes his plan is the first to take a multifaceted approach to addressing the problems.

“I intend to bring all the resources to bare on it, not just police,” he said. “I think in the past people have focused on policing strategies, but didn’t think of all the supportive strategies that we need after the police do their work—we need to have houses that look good, we don’t need blighted houses, kids have to play in safe parks—all the things on the positive side, not just eliminating the negative. We want to build a community and at the same time get rid of the blight.”

Purzycki said he doesn’t want to put a timeline, but instead focusing on making changes that will have a long-term impact.

“This is going to go at its own pace,” he said. “I know we want to see a reduction in criminal activity fairly soon—a lot of that is dependent on employment plans and strategies the [police] chief puts in place. It’s hard to put a timeline on it, but I know sooner rather than later.”

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