The Preserve at Whatcoat hoping for bright future

Gov. John Carney, center, and Director of Delaware Housing Authority Anas Ben Addi, to the Governors left, along with other local and state dignitaries cut the ribbon for the reopening of The Preserves at Whatcoat Apartments in Dover on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The results of a major $17.5 million rehabilitation of apartment units, a more positive and secure living environment and a new name now greet the residents of The Preserve at Whatcoat every day.

The five-building, rent-restricted 78-unit apartment complex off Saulsbury Road, formerly known as Whatcoat Village Apartments, had gained a reputation as a troubled area with a high crime rate in recent years.

That’s why Whatcoat United Methodist Church and the Whatcoat Community Development Inc., which own the apartments, and complex manager The Michaels Organization, decided to do something about it.

They got together and came up with a 15-month renovation plan they hope will turn the apartment complex’s reputation around.

No major renovations had taken place at the apartments since they opened more than 40 years ago.

Gov. John Carney, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, Sen. Brian Bushweller and other dignitaries were on hand for the grand re-opening and ribbon cutting for The Preserve at Whatcoat on Wednesday morning.

They all said it was time to turn the page to brighter days for the complex, whose buildings now all feature pitched roofs.

Pride in a refurbished property

Whatcoat United Methodist Senior Pastor Rev. Elmer Davis was optimistic about the future after he participated in the ribbon-cutting at the church where he preaches.

Gov. John Carney, center, poses with Chairperson of The Preserves at Whatcoat William Hill, left, and Whatcoat Methodist Church Pastor Elmer Davis Jr. at the reopening of The Preserves at Whatcoat Apartments in Dover on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“I’m very excited because we’re providing affordable housing for individuals in the community and then, on top of that, we’re enhancing the quality of life of every person that we come in contact with,” Rev. Davis said.

“Perception is reality for a lot of people and I think when people go by the new housing development people will see that residents will have some sense of ownership and will take care of the property.”

Mayor Christiansen said he is happy to witness the rebirths of affordable housing complexes in Dover such as The Preserve at Whatcoat, The Village at McKee Branch (formerly Walker Woods) and the renovations currently taking place at Liberty Court.

“There are a lot of people in this community, in this county, in this state and in this country that talk about getting up a load of people and we’re going to do something,” Mayor Christiansen said. “But I can stand here and tell you that Whatcoat puts its money and its efforts where its mouth is.
“They chose to invest their money, their time and their equity in restoring and renewing their commitment to this community and like a Phoenix, the Preserve rose from the ashes.”

Plenty of improvements

Improvements at the Preserve at Whatcoat included: upgrades to the building’s major systems — including heating and cooling — and interior improvements to all 78 units, which included all new kitchens, bathrooms and flooring.

In addition, the complex now has a newly constructed 2,500-square-foot community center and a tot lot.

“For this project, it’s really about the people who live there,” Gov. Carney said. “Strong communities start with good affordable housing.

“This project is essentially a recapitalization, a reinvestment, in these units and in the community with the other assets that are being funded through the project to make it even a better place to live for the residents.”

Financing for the rehabilitation of The Preserve at Whatcoat includes almost $10 million in private equity raised from the sale of Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocated from the Delaware State Housing Authority, which also provided construction and permanent financing, as well as soft loans to make the project feasible.

“These kinds of projects are really difficult to piece together,” said Gov. Carney. “If you’ve ever seen a spreadsheet in terms of where the dollars and equity and all the rest of it comes from there are lots of different pieces and the biggest of those pieces comes from the federal government in the form of tax credit equity.”

Remaining affordable

The Preserve at Whatcoat offers rents designed to be affordable to families earning below 50 percent of the area’s median income, with eight units set aside for people with special needs.

Last year, Vandana Sareen, vice president of The Michaels Organization, said that around two-thirds of the complex’s residents receive rental subsidies from HUD and that yearly income per family averages around $15,000 to $20,000.

She said the renovations would not change the pricing structure for residents of the complex.

Rental fees for the apartments range from $600 to around $750 per month, according to Ms. Sareen, depending on the size of the family occupying the apartment and the number of bedrooms.

“The rent structure for the residents will not change post-renovation and the residents will not have to pay any more than 30 percent of their income, which is the current requirement,” Ms. Sareen said, prior to the renovations.

Desiree Berry moved into her apartment at The Preserve at Whatcoat in September and she has been mostly pleased with her experience.

“I like the place,” Ms. Berry said. “It gives you an opportunity and it’s affordable housing. I’ve been looking for housing for about six years.

“I’ve been in (the apartments) before they renovated them and I like the way that it is. It changed it. I like the security system they have in there and I have a one-bedroom apartment and it’s a nice size for me. It’s enough for me. I’m happy.”

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

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