Collaborative agreement puts community focus on development

BRIDGEVILLE – Strength in numbers is the collaborative approach in a partnership supporters hope will bring a positive facelift to the Coverdale area.

Through a competitive process Messick Development has been chosen as the next focus community where the Sussex Housing Group will pool its collective resources to address community challenges and opportunities.

A memorandum of understanding between the Sussex Housing Group and the Just a Hand Up Community Navigation Association sealed the deal that could open the door to various forms of upgrades and housing rehab.

Evelyn Wilson, longtime Coverdale resident and the executive director of the Just a Hand Up Community Navigation Association was one of two Messick Development residents who signed the MOU.

“It is not my project. It’s the community’s project,” said Ms. Wilson. “I am a go-getter. I have a passion to help people.”

Lillian Harrison, Sussex Housing Group chair, signed the MOU on behalf of the group.

Sussex Housing Group is a group of nonprofit, government and corporate organizations under the leadership of Housing Alliance Delaware, committed to improving housing, access to services and community conditions in Sussex County.

“This is third focus community,” said Ms. Harrison, who works with the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council. “When goals are met, we don’t leave.”

Previous focus communities focused on Pinetown in the Lewes area and Mount Joy in the Millsboro area. Street lighting was a major improvement in both, Ms. Harrison said.

Messick Development encompasses Nat Turner Street, Booker T. Washington Street and Jones Dogwood Drive in the northern part of the Coverdale area, which over the years has occasionally made headlines through the police blotter.

Ms. Wilson noted that previous efforts to upgrade the Coverdale area has been mostly scattered rehab. She believes this more concentrated initiative will have a positive impact and entice a better class of people come into the community.

“We’re out to take back our community,” Ms. Wilson said.

Outlined in the MOU are Messick Development goals and objectives:

• Community needs assessment;

• Exterior and interior home improvements to qualified residents;

• Street lighting district;

• Sidewalks on Messick Development road;

• New Coverdale entrance signage;

• Board development and succession planning;

• Community education programs;

• Community playground redevelopment;

• Driveway reconstruction; and

• Adopt-A-Road program on Camilla Lane (on the southern end of Messick Development).

“And it is very resident driven, so that is part of the purpose of the MOU, where it’s not all of these entities coming in and saying, ‘This is what’s best for your community,’” said Amy Walls, Assistant Community Reinvestment Act director for Discover Bank.

“It’s the community meeting regularly with us and saying, ‘These are the things we’d like to work on collectively. We’re going to do our part and what resources can you bring to the table so that we can take those ideas that the neighborhood has and actually get them to fruition?’”

Sussex Housing Group Members include: Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.; Discover Bank; Division of Public Health; Elevated Ministries; First State Community Action Agency; Housing Alliance Delaware; Just a Hand Up Community Navigation Association; Milford Housing Development Corporation; NCALL Research, Inc.; Pathways to Success; Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice; Sussex County Habitat for Humanity; Sussex County Community Development & Housing; Sussex Economic Development Action Committee; Quinn Associates; USDA Rural Development snd WSFS Bank.

“We support a number of partner organizations and their work in the community,” said Ms. Walls. “What we did in Mount Joy was the county came in and did a number of rehab programs using federal dollars, their CDBG dollars.

“They were about $50,000 short of completing all the renovations that they wanted to do, that they had ‘spec-ed’ out to do. So, Discover came in and funded that last bit of rehab to really close out the project. We support the partners and try to fill gaps when they arise.”

Bernie Edwards, First State Community Action Agency Executive Director, pledged FSCAA’s ongoing support.

“We can do more together than we can ever do alone. With the partners you have you’re going to see a lot of great things,” said Ms. Edwards. “Never give up on your community. Take control of your community. First State was there then, is here now and will be there …”

Brad Whaley, Sussex County Community Development & Housing Director, said the county’s role would include the Community Development Block Grant program to help area residents.

Sussex County Habitat for Humanity can help through financial coaching and related home ownership education. Habitat might also someday be a home-building player in Coverdale.

“Habitat has property, a lot, in the area,” said SCHFH Executive Director Kevin Gilmore.

There could be other potential opportunities.

“There are some lots owned by people but don’t have houses on them,” said Ms. Walls. “So, potentially there are opportunities on some empty lots as well.”

On hand for the announcement was U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Delaware. who put his signature on the MOU.

“We are stronger together. I am thrilled that the idea has taken on a new shape and life,” Sen. Carper said. “If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go farther, travel together.”

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