Wilmington’s aging housing problem [video]

 (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

(Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

In its 27 years of building in the city of Wilmington, Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County has come across a growing problem plaguing the city’s housing stock.

Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County offers zero percent loans to qualified people in need of better housing. Once selected, future homeowners put in what the nonprofit calls ‘sweat equity,’ as they help build their future homes.

The nonprofit buys land and homes from the city; properties are also donated to Habitat’s housing inventory. Knowing what the city has to offer, New Castle County chapter CEO Kevin Smith said the homes are in desperate need of updating, especially if the city is trying to drive up homeownership.

“What you see now is that the city has a huge number of aging, boarded, delapidated housing,” Smith said.

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Much of Habitat’s inventory within city limits, Smith said, includes homes that are between 80 and 100-years-old with layouts that not only show the property’s age, but also that do not appeal to homebuyers now.

“We [have] a lot of housing that’s 14 foot wide, it’s maybe only 800 to 900 square feet,” Smith said. “That doesn’t sound like a real hardship, but … people do have more things than they used to, people also expect more. So if we’re trying to create homeownership, drive investment into the city … they’re going to expect a certain kind of quality level, living level of housing that’s available to them.”

Wilmington City Councilman Darius Brown agreed, saying buyers want big closets and certain amenities like dishwashers and washers and dryers.

“To make sure we have those added amenities in our new housing stock as we redevelop blocks is what helps us to stabilize communities and also encourage people to live here in the city of Wilmington,” Brown said.

Habitat’s latest multi-home project named Cooper’s Run, and its recently completed townhome development named Millstone are both in northeast Wilmington off of Vandever Avenue. Both projects fall in Brown’s district. The homes are spacious and more importantly, according to Brown, up-to-date.

“What we’ve found over the last several years of Habitat’s revitalization efforts here … is as we continue to create livable neighborhoods with a desirable housing stock … with that we find that crime is reduced,” Brown said.

A win for the city and for the homeowners who Smith said, often pay hundreds less for a mortgage than what they paid to rent apartments that could also use serious improvements.

“Part of what we’re trying to raise awareness about is … that more and more people need simple, decent, efficient housing,” Smith said. “We have inventory to build out, the limiting factor for us is cash. So if we could raise more money from this community, then we could be building more houses and moving people out of those poor conditions into great ones.”

In addition to Habitat’s work, several neighborhood revitalization efforts are underway throughout the city, namely the “West Side Grows” and “Eastside Rising” initiatives.

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