Framing a masterpiece: New homes in downtown Dover build positive outlook

DOVER — The pride of new home ownership is a powerful thing.

It not only brings a sense of stability to a family, it can also bring a feeling of togetherness for a neighborhood and can even serve as a crime deterrent.

Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, NCALL Research, the Milford Housing Authority and other groups have combined to bring dozens of new affordable homes to Dover’s Downtown Development District over the past couple of years.

Dan Simpson, the executive director for Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, has witnessed first-hand the positive changes that new home ownership can provide.

“Between us, Milford Housing, NCALL, and other private investors, what we’re trying to do strategically is target the same parts of the city all at one time so that you see a noticeable and significant change all at once by staying inside the Downtown Development District and inside the city limits,” Mr. Simpson said.
“Working collectively, we can make a broader impact in a shorter period of time.”

Johnny Nazario, left, gets help from the Blue Knights during a recent Habitat for Humanity wall raising ceremony on Mary Street in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Chris Cooper, the development director for CDHFH, doesn’t have to drive very far if he wants to check in on one of the properties he has helped build in downtown Dover.

“We try to concentrate in generalized, specific areas,” Mr. Cooper said. “We put five homes on South Kirkwood Street, we’re in the process of putting a number of homes on the unit block of North New Street, we did two last year and there’s a couple more slated for later on this year.

“Pride of home ownership is something that carries through for years.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen is a regular participant when it comes to unveiling a new home in downtown Dover.

The mayor applauds the home builders for their work in finding homes for families that need financial assistance.

Central Delaware Habitat serves individuals who have lived or worked in Kent County for at least 12 consecutive months and are part of the 60 percent median income level or below.

Mr. Christiansen said he is already seeing a transformation in some pockets of downtown Dover due to home ownership.

“It’s going to cut down on crime and all the other things that have been going on in these neighborhoods because people have their vested interest here,” he said. “It’s not just some place to hang their hat, so the neighborhood is going to stabilize and regenerate the heart of the city and the downtown area and that’s what we’ve been aiming for.

“It’s happening sooner rather than later and I’m really happy that we’re going in the direction we are and we’re going to continue to forge ahead.”

Newest home on the block

Last Tuesday, CDHFH raised the walls of a new home on Mary Street that will soon be occupied by Johnny and Chary Nazario and their two sons and two daughters.

It is one of five new houses that CDHFH are planning to build this year in Kent County, three of which are scheduled to be constructed in downtown Dover.

The Nazarios’ home is also CDHFH’s 13th home in Dover and the 11th home built within the Downtown Development District since 2015.

The Nazario family home received a jump start through a June 13th Framing Frenzy on Legislative Mall, in which nearly 60 AmeriCorps members from around Delaware came together and framed the exterior walls of the home in just two hours.

“Having a house for the first time is awesome,” Mr. Nazario said. “I never thought I was going to have a house here in Dover, but it feels nice.

“It’s a changed life for me and my family (two sons, two daughters) and it feels awesome to have my own house.”

Of course, the Nazario’s themselves will put in 250 hours of work on their new home themselves, known as “sweat equity.”

“It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out,” Mr. Simpson said. “The Nazarios are going to invest 250 hours each to the construction and the build and the process of making this their own home.”

Mr. Simpson added that it never gets old when he gets the opportunity to see a family like the Nazarios move into their new place.

“It’s a wonderful experience every single time it happens,” said Mr. Simpson. “It’s very rewarding to watch.”

Mr. Cooper said he loves his job so much that sometimes it doesn’t feel like work.

“I tell people all the time that I don’t actually work, I get to do great things and have fun and to be able to work with families like the Nazarios,” he said.

“I smile all day at work. I don’t work. I love what I do, I love helping people and to be able to give the hand-up that habitat gives is just awesome.”

It’s All Good in Delaware Inc. presents Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity with a check for $2,500 to cover the cost to replace all the tools and ladders stolen from a habitat construction trailer in May. Accepting the donation, are, from left, Central Delaware Habitat’s Chris Cooper, It’s All Good in Delaware’s Matt Spong and Habitat’s Dan Simpson. (Submitted photo)

Restoring pride in capital city

The influx of new homes being built downtown works right in step with NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover program.

Central Dover is composed of a number of distinct residential areas clustered around the historic Loockerman Street commercial corridor. The plan area is made up of 75 blocks which is roughly 393 acres in size.

In its 2014 report on “Restoring Central Dover,” NCALL said home ownership rate in Central Dover was 25 percent, compared to 52 percent for all of Dover.

Restoring Central Dover was instrumental in the city receiving Downtown Development District designation from the state in 2015, which provides access to resources designed to stabilize communities, stimulate private capital investment and improve job growth and commercial vitality

“This part of Dover, a small city and Delaware’s capital, has been in decline,” said Joe Myer, executive director of NCALL. “Restoring Central Dover, through planning and implementation strategies, is unlocking Dover’s potential.”

In March, it was announced that NCALL will receive $1 million for 20 new housing units in Dover from Delaware’s Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund.

Gov. John Carney said investing in home ownership is one of the best investments the state can make.

“This funding will directly help families, cities and towns across Delaware become stronger,” Gov. Carney said. “When we put homes together, they become neighborhoods, safe places enriched by diversity where we collectively share in our cities’ growth and successes.

“When families step into houses, they become homes — residences of refuge, centers of companionship, locations of learning and places of worship. Home is where we celebrate our accomplishments and draw upon strength and support to face our challenges.”

A successful blueprint

Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, NCALL and Milford Housing Authority are continuing to follow through on a successful blueprint to improve the downtown area.

Mr. Cooper said the results are obvious.

“When we first started in downtown Dover three years ago the percentage of rental occupies was around 82 percent,” he said. “I’m not sure what the number is now but it’s certainly in a better spot than it was.

“If you really want to know what the pride of home ownership looks like I think you can drive down to South Kirkwood Street and take a look at those five homes (CDHFH has built). The way the grass is cut, the way there are flowers in the flower beds … that’s pride in home ownership right there at work.”

City Councilman Matt Lindell said he has driven past the new homes downtown and it is making a positive difference in the community.

“I think it’s good,” Mr. Lindell said. “I think anytime you can get more home ownership it gives people a vested interest in the community and I think that helps with other issues that we have in the community with crime and such.

“People that have pride in their own home and own their own home, they’re not going to put up with some of the stuff that goes on around town and around their neighborhoods. They’ll report it, so I think it’s a positive when you can promote home ownership.”

Mayor Christiansen said the new homes don’t quite pop up fast enough for him. He did say they are making quite a difference — one house at a time.

“I’d rather them build four or five at a time,” the mayor said with a laugh, “but one at a time is good.”

Mr. Simpson said that taking it one property at a time has its benefits.

“You take it one property at a time, one family at a time and you make a small difference, but it adds up to a huge difference and a major benefit for our community here in Dover,” he said.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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