Delaware Public Media’s Tom Byrne and contributor Larry Nagengast discuss The Flats housing project and other housing redevelopments in Wilmington
With 221 new housing units in its signature redevelopment project on Wilmington’s West Side now complete, the Directors of Woodlawn are moving forward with the next phase of construction at The Flats and beginning to participate in Mayor Mike Purzycki’s plan to revitalize housing on the city’s east side.
Rebuilding of The Flats, the working-class community built over a century ago under the leadership of Quaker philanthropist and cotton mill owner William Poole Bancroft, began in 2015 and recently reached its halfway mark with the completion of the third of its seven phases. . The fourth phase has just begun, with the ongoing demolition of existing townhouses extending south and east from the corner of Bayard Avenue and Seventh Street West.
The 52 units in this phase — a combination of townhouses and three-story apartment buildings — are expected to be completed in August 2023, said Richard T. Przywara, president and CEO of Woodlawn. Later this year, construction is expected to begin on a fifth phase, 51 senior housing units, at Fourth Street and Bayard Avenue.
Overall, the reconstruction of The Flats will result in 453 apartments and townhouses. When work began, project costs were estimated at $110 million with a timeline of 10 to 15 years for completion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused construction delays and increased costs, but Przywara expects the entire project to be completed towards the end of this decade, the outer limit of the original schedule, without exceeding the estimate of $110 million.
The pandemic has slowed the completion of the third phase and the start of the fourth, which Przywara had hoped to start last August or September.
“We all underestimated COVID,” says Przywara, who took over as Woodlawn manager last February. “I’ve been in construction for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like the last 18 months for supply chain.”
Building materials were scarce, and when they were available, they cost more, he says. On top of that, the virus itself and the safety protocols imposed during the state of emergency meant fewer workers were available.
The new apartments and townhouses at The Flats have amenities that could not have been imagined when the community was originally built. Air-conditioned residences with spacious closets, multiple bathrooms, dishwashers and microwaves, free WiFi connections, outdoor security cameras and off-street parking are the new normal, replacing uninsulated, energy-guzzling homes by tiny closets and 42-inch tubs.
“Old townhouses were functionally obsolete,” says Przywara. “Many residents were paying more for electric baseboard heating than for their rent. They didn’t insulate in the early 1900s. They paid to heat the bricks.
The new construction retains much of The Flats’ original character, including the all-brick exteriors. And the combination of amenities like the Woodlawn Library and adjacent park and proximity to retail and dining destinations on Union Street make the community a desirable neighborhood.
“People stay with us for many years,” says Przywara, noting that applicants may have to wait two or three years – and sometimes longer – before vacant accommodation becomes available to them.
As a project funded primarily by federal low-income housing tax credits — they cover about 80% of construction costs, Przywara says — The Flats is subject to complex income guidelines for its residents. Their income must be between 30 and 60 percent of the New Castle County average median income ($73,892 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) and the rent they pay depends on where their income falls in this fork. Tax credit rules also require developers to allocate specific percentages of each size unit to applicants based on their income. For example, if a unit is designated to be occupied by a household whose income is 40% of the county median, it cannot be rented to someone whose income is at the 60% level.
“Old townhouses were functionally obsolete. Many residents were paying more for electric baseboard heating than for their rent. »
Richard Przywara, President and CEO of Woodlawn Trustees
According to a rental webpage for The Flatsthe current maximum monthly rent for a three-bedroom unit is $1,026, but no units are available.
All units in the first three construction phases are occupied. Residents of units demolished in the Phase Four area have been relocated to other units in Woodlawn and will have the option of returning to new units in The Flats once construction is complete.
Because The Flats is such a large community, bordered roughly by Fourth and Ninth Streets to the south and north, Union Street to the east, and the B&O railroad tracks to the west, it is much better known as a property. Woodlawn as the dispersed site. accommodation that Woodlawn owns on Wilmington East Coast.
Woodlawn’s interest in the East Side began in the 1930s, thanks in large part to William Bancroft’s wife, Emma, who had been a shareholder in the Citizens Housing Corporation, a group dedicated to improving housing conditions. Upon his death, Woodlawn acquired his stake in the company and in 1960 became its sole owner. Woodlawn gradually increased its holdings on the east side to approximately 120 units, scattered in an area bounded by Seventh, French, 14th and Church streets.
As part of a $50 million financing residential redevelopment and stabilization plan announced last month by Purzycki, the city will pour about $30 million into projects on the east side. The plan includes an agreement for Woodlawn to rehabilitate 60 of the homes it currently owns and build 20 new ones. About 20 of the houses slated for rehabilitation are vacant and work has already started on six of them, says Przywara.
Much of the funding for residential rehabilitation will come from the $55.6 million the city is receiving over two years from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion COVID relief program signed into law last March. “We will use city funds if necessary” to carry out the planned work, Purzycki said this week.
Woodlawn is expected to receive about $5 million — $3 million for rehabilitation work and $2 million for new homes, Purzycki said.
The new homes would be built at the north end of the 800 block of Bennett Street, with New Castle County Habitat for Humanity build two rows of new houses at the south end of the block.
Przywara says Woodlawn will use the same architectural design firm as Habitat, so there will be a uniformity of appearance across the block.
The architects haven’t started work on the interior design, Przywara says, but each unit will have two or three bedrooms, porches and energy-efficient features. Since the units won’t have garages, Przywara says he hopes the architects can include exterior electrical outlets suitable for charging electric vehicles. “Just because you live in affordable housing doesn’t mean you should give up other important options,” like charging an electric vehicle, he says.
Przywara says work on the new homes is expected to start in late fall. The mayor’s office expects Woodlawn to take about three years to complete both rehabilitation and new construction.
There will be a key difference between Woodlawn and Habitat homes: Woodlawn units, like its other properties, will be rentals, while Habitat sells its homes to owners who invest “sweat equity” with the nonprofit. during the construction phase.
Although Woodlawn and Habitat work is about to begin, it should not be seen as a first step in the revitalization plan. “I can’t wait to get right into the balance of the East Side” to begin demolition and rehabilitation, the mayor said.
Habitat, in addition to building new homes, will partner with the city to improve the exteriors of up to 100 owner-occupied properties on the East Side, Purzycki said. Work would include roofs, trim, windows and doors, all at no cost to owners
Purzycki said East Side’s ambitious effort not only requires an enormous amount of resources, but also unprecedented partnerships with key organizations. In addition to Woodlawn and Habitat, partners include Wilmington Housing Authority, Delaware State Housing Authority, Central Baptist Community Development Corporation, Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank, Delmarva Power, and New Castle County Vo-Tech School District.
“The good news here is that there will be work for everyone for years to come.”
Richard Przywara, President and CEO of Woodlawn Trustees
To bolster crime prevention efforts in the area, the utility will install 290 new, brighter streetlights. The vo-tech school district will train at least 25 neighborhood youth in construction trades and pay them for work placements.
Additionally, the state plans to fully fund the construction of a new Bancroft School for grades 1-8 near the aging building at Eighth and Lombard Streets. The new school would serve as the anchor for the entire revitalization program, Purzycki said.
The east side projects and the ongoing revitalization of The Flats could help businesses and workers in the construction sector overcome some of the losses suffered due to the pandemic, Przywara said. “The good news here is that there will be work for everyone for years to come.”