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REACH Riverside cuts ribbon on first homes

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Officials cut the ribbon on Imani Village, the first phase of the REACH Riverside redevelopment in Wilmington on Aug. 16. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – When Alison Mendez moved to the Riverside community in the city’s northeast six years ago, it wasn’t an ideal home for her and her two children.

“There was a shooting right behind my house, and it scared me and my kids. But today, it’s changed just because of what you guys are doing,” she said.

Alison Mendez told the crowd at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting that she was so thankful to be among Imani Village’s first residents. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Mendez is among the newest residents of Imani Village, the first-phase redevelopment of the city’s subsidized housing in Riverside that is being targeted in an ambitious redevelopment program known as REACH Riverside. On Tuesday, officials from across the city gathered to celebrate the completion of the first 74 townhomes in the project bounded by Northeast Boulevard and the Brandywine Creek to the city limits.

“This work is selfless; it is tiring every day. And you really don’t get the opportunity to celebrate too often because it’s like, ‘What’s next?’ So today, just having 90 minutes to take a deep breath and be able to celebrate the moment, is an  unbelievable feeling,” said Logan Herring Sr., the CEO of REACH Riverside, which follows the principles of “purpose-built communities,” a holistic approach of housing, education and health care meant to tackle areas of concentrated urban poverty.

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, who taught at the former Prestige Academy in Riverside before being elected to office, recalled doubting that such an ambitious project could ever come to fruition.

“When I was first elected, I was sat down by the Wilmington Housing Authority and they gave me an overview of how we were going to be a Purpose Built Community and I walked out saying, ‘What a beautiful dream, but honestly what are the chances of this ever happening?” he said. “But thanks to the people here, and thanks to Logan with your personal commitment, investment and leadership, this has happened and it’s a legacy that’s going to last for not just people here, but kids who are in schools in this area for generations to come.”

More than three-quarters of Imani Village’s townhouse units have subsidized rents. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Imani Village – named for the Swahili word that means “faith” – includes one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom apartment homes for low-income families, with units set aside for seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. In alignment with the Purpose Built Communities’ mission, 59 of the units are available to tenants with incomes from 30% to 60% of area median income (AMI) and 15 workforce housing units. Of the total units, 12 units are fully ADA accessible, eight units are designated for residents with special needs, and all are Zero Energy Ready.

The second phase of housing is already being concurrently built – due in part to the allocation of more than $26 million from the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds – with another 67 units due to be completed by the end of the year.

Once complete, the entire Riverside redevelopment will include 600 high-quality, mixed-income rental and for-sale homes along with a new Kingswood Community Center and Early Learning Academy that will serve as the foundation of a cradle-to-college/career education pipeline for the community. The Warehouse, a teen-designed, co-working and service center focused on serving the city’s teen population, as well as EastSide Charter School also serve the greater community.

REACH Riverside CEO Logan Herring Sr. has shepherded the ambitious project to its first milestone. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Partnering with the Wilmington Housing Authority and developer Pennrose, REACH Riverside broke ground in December 2020 by first developing vacant land. As existing residents are moved into the new housing – 15 families made the move with the first available units – the deteriorating public housing will be razed in order to build new units.

To date, the WRK Group has raised about $124 million of the $300 million project, with the first two phases of construction being fully financed. However, a renovation and expansion of the nearby Kingswood Community Center and the outlying four phases of development are still raising funds, Herring said.

“Even with the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTCs) and finance, there’s still gaps to make up in every phase, approximately $20 million. And that’s getting more expensive with supply chain issues, rising inflation, etc., so as we move forward, it’s just going to get more and more expensive,” Herring said noting that corporate partnerships, philanthropic donations and government funding have been equally essential in advancing the project.

Timothy Henkel, CEO of Philadelphia-based developer Pennrose, which frequently works on low-income projects, said they’ve contended with a number of supply chain issues to get to Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, including shortages on lumber, electrical gear and stormwater piping. Those product delays have added upward of 15% on their time schedules as they try to get homes ready for tenants, and Henkel said it can be frustrating when they appear finished from the outside.

The next phases of redevelopment will tear down aging, neighboring units to Imani Village in order to build new housing. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“If you’re in an apartment and you want to want to move, you have to give notice. It’s a difficult hardship for many people,” he told Delaware Business Times. “Construction projects work on a sequence and that sequence is so blown up right now. For the schedules to be more agile, it’s very difficult. We try to identify trends and order as far ahead of time as possible.”

Pennrose is also watching the economic climate as interest rates rise as the Federal Reserve tries to tame inflation. As rates rise, the cost of financing for developers becomes higher, and Henkel noted that they may have to adjust future REACH Riverside phases to take higher interest rates into consideration or raise additional funds to cover higher interest payments.

“We can’t raise rents and we can’t cut the expenses without it showing; we want this to be something that lasts for a long time. So, it’s a difficult equation,” he said.

Timothy Henkel, left, CEO of Pennrose, talks with M&T Bank Delaware Market President Nick Lambrow before Tuesday’s program. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

One corporate partner that has been integral to the first phases of REACH Riverside is M&T Bank, which provided a $4.5 million construction loan to Pennrose and has donated $150,000 to The Teen Warehouse. The bank is in discussions about future phase financing too, according to M&T Bank Delaware Market President Nick Lambrow.

“M&T Bank, along with other funders, is proud to be a part of this initiative whose vision was built with purpose, leadership and collaboration to make our community stronger. M&T’s commitment to the neighborhoods we serve remains a foundational part of how we show up in Delaware and we look forward to seeing all the good Imani Village will bring to its residents,” Lambrow told DBT.

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