New houses bring hope to downtown Dover

DOVER — Four gleaming brand-new two-story houses built by Camden-based Lessard Builders stand shoulder-to-shoulder on North Kirkwood Street.

It’s yet another proud moment for NCALL, the Delaware State Housing Authority’s Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund, and many other partners involved in helping turn a once blighted area of downtown into a thriving community.

However, there is an even greater day that awaits, according to Karen Speakman, executive director of NCALL. That day will be when families are ready to move into the new affordable houses — officially making them homes.

Ms. Speakman, Anas Ben Addi, director of the Delaware Housing Authority, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and Sen. Trey Paradee were among the dignitaries who attended an Open House event on Friday for the four new houses on North Kirkwood Street. They stand right across the street from three other new homes that were recently built by the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity (CDHFH).

Mayor Christiansen said Friday marked another day in moving Dover forward.
“It is another great day in downtown Dover,” the mayor said. “Why? Because we continue to take back this neighborhood and other neighborhoods one house at a time. We are taking it from someplace to hang your hat to a place where a house becomes a home with a family that has a vested interest in the community and in the city of Dover.

“I thank NCALL for their efforts. When I became mayor five years ago, they were beginning their Restoring Central Dover program. It’s an outstanding program, they partner with Habitat, and you can see the fruit of their efforts.”
Through funding support from the Strong Neighborhood Housing Fund and the Downtown Development District, NCALL, along with the CDHFH, are continuing to knock down abandoned houses in downtown Dover, rebuilding them with new ones, and providing affordable opportunities for families.

Ms. Speakman recently recalled the kinds of life-changing moments that take place when a family gets to experience the pride of new home ownership.

“We have meaningful impacts,” Ms. Speakman said. “The story that resonates with me was when we did one of our housing complexes down in Berlin, Maryland, a couple moved into this house and they were just thrilled, and they shared that pride.

“They never wanted people coming to their house before and she told a story that she always had to put cotton balls in her children’s ears so that they wouldn’t get roaches in them at night. She didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

She added, “That’s the kind of stuff, from that, to people getting their first-time homes, it makes such a huge difference in their lives. There’s never been a dull moment.”

In May, NCALL received $500,000 from the Strong Neighborhood Housing Fund that will support 10 newly constructed homes in the Restoring Central Dover target area within the city’s Downtown Development District. The new homes are part of a partnership between NCALL and CDHFH.

The new funding will help NCALL and the CDHFH address dilapidated properties within neighborhoods around Queen Street, North New Street and North Kirkwood Street. The target area is made up of 75 blocks within the downtown Dover area that has a homeownership rate of just 25 percent.

Ms. Speakman, executive director of NCALL, said a total of 28 new homes in Dover have been completed through its partnership with the CDHFH over the past five years. The additional funding will continue to support their efforts, she said.

“It’s really a key part of our holistic community development approach and collaborative effort that we’re doing here in Dover that we call ‘Restoring Central Dover,’ which is a collaboration of a number of different organizations, the city of Dover and neighborhood residents,” Ms. Speakman said. “NCALL is the quarterback of this effort and we’re entering our fifth year of implementing this plan and we are very proud of the outcomes that we’ve had to date.”

Mr. Addi said he has watched as the four newest homes on North Kirkwood Street have risen from the ground, bringing hope to the once-blighted area.
“My son goes to Fairview (Elementary), which is on the (north) side of the street, and my daughter goes to Kidz Ink, which is on the other side of the street,” he said. “So, I’ve driven by this street every day for seven months, but the thing is, especially with these houses, I think I have visited and monitored the progress more than I would if had I been an inspector.”

Mr. Addi said efforts like the state’s Strong Neighborhoods program and DDD programs are working in harmony to revitalize downtown areas.

“What we try to do with the Strong Neighborhoods is we go to these depressed, stressed markets where there is no for-profit investment,” said Mr. Addi. “It’s not that we don’t want the for-profit investment, but the financial equation is not there. You buy the house, you build, but the end of the day your cost is higher than what you can sell it for.

“What we’re doing with the public subsidies, working with partners like NCALL, like Habitat (for Humanity) or Milford Housing (Authority), is to fill the gap … knowing that your cost is going to be more than what you can get for it, so it’s our job not to pay for the whole thing, but to pay for the subsidy that’s going to make the deal happen. So, with these houses we allocate about $50,000 per unit and literally to close the gap between the cost and what you can sell it for.”

New houses, families and the pride of new home ownership tend to reverse nuisance areas, which previously attracted crime and illegal activities.

At least, that’s what Tim Bailey, executive director of CDHFH, said he has found in his experience.
“These were boarded-up homes, there was a lot of blight on these streets, and these folks are brave enough to be the first families, the first responsible, strong-moral families to move into this neighborhood,” Mr. Bailey said. “We couldn’t be happier with all the work that’s being done here in central Dover and we will continue this partnership.

“Part of our mission statement is ‘building affordable homes, communities and hope,’ and it’s the ‘communities and hope’ part that we find the most exciting, because Central Dover is transforming, and everybody here is a big part of that.”

For Ms. Speakman and others at NCALL, any day that they can see downtown Dover take a positive step forward is a rewarding day.

“It’s incredible,” Ms. Speakman said. “We are really transforming house-by-house, block-by-block. It’s like raising a child, it takes a village. Building houses takes a village of partners.

“It’s really all about the holistic work of Restoring Central Dover. We’re trying to make Dover a more desirable place to live, work and play.”

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

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