Riverside receives historic $50M fed housing grant
WILMINGTON – On Tuesday morning, columns of boarded-up row homes stood quietly on the west side of Bowers Street, but the east side was a different scene.
More than 100 people gathered at Imani Village, the brand-new, affordable-rate townhouse complex, to celebrate a federal grant of $50 million that will dramatically accelerate the redevelopment of the Riverside community in Wilmington.
“There are disappointing and difficult and challenging days,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told the crowd. “But then there are also days like today. They are good days. They’re beautiful. They’re spectacular.”
The $50 million grant comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program that supports locally driven strategies that address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing. It’s the largest federal housing grant made in Delaware in many years, and Wilmington was the smallest recipient in a grant round that included Philadelphia, Miami and Atlanta.
Leading the local effort is the nonprofit REACH Riverside, an arm of the WRK Group that is designed with the principles of “purpose-built communities,” a holistic approach of housing, education and health care meant to tackle areas of concentrated urban poverty.
“For too long, the northeast Wilmington community has been relegated to the sidelines,” The WRK Group CEO Logan Herring Sr. said. “Through The WRK Group’s partnership with Wilmington Housing Authority, the city of Wilmington, Pennrose properties, and the amazing investment through the Choice Neighborhood implementation grant from HUD, we plan to change that.”
Coons recalled how Herring was originally recruited to help reopen and revitalize the Kingswood Community Center in 2010, and at that time there was little optimism for change in the long-neglected community.
“Step by step and brick by brick, volunteers, donors and investors from the community and from across our state and our country have invested here because there’s been leadership, there’s been a vision, there’s been a plan, and there’s been a community that deserved this investment,” Coons said.
Once complete, the entire Riverside redevelopment will include 700 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 delivery space focused on serving the city’s teen population, as well as EastSide Charter School also serve the greater community.
Mayor Mike Purzycki recalled visiting Georgia eight years ago to see the work of the first “purpose-built community” in action and was inspired.
“When I look at this project [Riverside] … it’s a symbol of possibilities. If you can do it here, people can start imagining that you can do it somewhere else,” he said.
The influx of federal funding, the culmination of more than four years of grant crafting and application, will allow REACH Riverside and its development partner, Pennrose, to complete the project in less than half of the originally projected timeline. The project also received an infusion of more than $26 million from the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding two years ago.
Pennrose CEO Mark Dambly said his development team has already demolished 235 units to date and will soon demolish the remaining 295. Construction that started in 2018 is now slated to finish in 2031 after originally projecting to take more than 20 years, with about 140 of the 713 units already completed.
Imani Village – named for the Swahili word that means “faith” – includes one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes for low-income families, with units set aside for seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities.
“This is the most amazing work group that we’ve worked with in our 50 years,” Dambly said.