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REACH Riverside builds momentum in Wilmington

Larry Nagengast
Delaware Public Media

The ongoing redevelopment of Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood – known as REACH Riverside - is making strides.  And the project’s pace is poised to accelerate after receiving just over to $26 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this week

Contributor Larry Nagengast offers an update on where things stand now and what’s next on project timeline.

It will be at about six months before the first residents move into the redeveloped Riverside community in northeast Wilmington, but signs of progress are more visible each day and the pace of the massive project is about to accelerate, thanks to $26.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The shells of most of the 74 units in the project’s first phase are now standing, and interior work on many of those apartments has begun. The first of those units should be completed by late winter or early spring, says Ryan Bailey, a senior director at Pennrose, the Philadelphia-based developer responsible for overseeing construction and property management of the roughly 600 units of mixed-income housing in a high-poverty neighborhood bounded roughly by North East Boulevard, the Wilmington city line, the Amtrak rail line and the Brandywine.

Work on the second phase, another 67 apartments, will start in December, and should be completed in late 2022, says Logan Herring, CEO of the WRK Group, which includes REACH Riverside, the lead organization behind project.

The acceleration will late next year, Bailey says, when work can begin on three more sections, labeled Phases 3, 7 and 8 and totaling about 200 units. The goal is to complete about 100 units a year, so these sections would be completed by the end of 2024.

Construction of those phases would complete work on the residential portion in the northern half of the redevelopment area.

"With the relief funds, we will be able to finish the northern portion of the redevelopment two years sooner." - WRK Group CEO Logan Herring.

The federal relief funds, part of the $1 billion the state has received through the American Rescue Plan, will fuel the speedup, Herring says, because the grant eliminates the need to wait for approval of federal low-income tax credits that would have had to be used to cover some of those construction costs.

“With the relief funds, we will be able to finish the northern portion of the redevelopment two years sooner,” Herring says.

“That big award is just amazing,” Bailey says.

“This purpose-built community will accelerate the development of safe, affordable housing for hundreds of Delaware families, and help rebuild a Wilmington community that has been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis. That’s exactly how American Rescue Plan funds are to be used. The Riverside development will support a mix of housing options for city residents, as well as providing wraparound social services to the community,” Gov. John Carney said Monday, as he and other elected officials gathered at the construction site to announce the grant.

Each of the redevelopment phases will consist of a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, some of them specially equipped to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Each phase will also feature a community room, green space and a tot lot play area for children. Current residents of Wilmington Housing Authority units in Riverside, which will be demolished as new construction moves ahead, will receive priority in applying to live in the new apartments. WHA Riverside residents will soon begin receiving letters with information on filing applications, Bailey says.

Credit Larry Nagengast
Larry Nagengast
The first of the 74 units being built in Phase 1 of the REACH Riverside project could be ready by late winter or early spring

As mixed-income housing, units in the REACH Riverside community will be rented on two tiers. Rents for subsidized units, available to current WHA Residents in good standing and others who qualify for public housing, would be based on residents’ income. Units rented at market rates would start at $800 monthly for a one-bedroom apartment and increase by $100 for each additional bedroom, Bailey says.

"It takes a little time for market-rate renters to see that the neighborhood is changing, to recognize that they want to move in." - Penrose senior director Ryan Bailey.

Those “market rates” are deliberately being set below what comparable apartments might rent for elsewhere in the city because Riverside is being transitioned from what is now largely a low-income community to one that will have an overall higher demographic.

“It takes a little time for market-rate renters to see that the neighborhood is changing, to recognize that they want to move in,” Bailey says. Pennrose, which has been developing mixed-income communities for much of its 50-year history, “has done it before, and it has been successful.”

Creating a successful mixed-income community is a multi-faceted project, one that involves both brick-and-mortar improvements and meaningful supports for residents seeking to improve their lives.

Credit WRK Group
REACH Riverside's master plan shows how the housing redevelopment will roll out and the location of the new Kingswood Community Center

To achieve those goals, REACH Riverside (the acronym stands for Redevelopment, Education and Community Health) affiliated with Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has created a holistic model for successful redevelopment of disadvantaged communities. Purpose Built Communities has been providing free consulting services as REACH Riverside developed and began implementing its master plan.

That master plan includes replacing the existing Kingswood Community Center, a neighborhood meeting place for 75 years, with a new building. About $11 million has already been raised for construction of the planned 70,000-square-foot community center, which has an estimated cost of $41 million, Herring says. The public phase of a campaign to raise the remaining $30 million has just begun. Herring says he is hoping that some federal COVID-19 relief funds may be awarded to assist with construction expenses.

Credit REACH Riverside
REACH Riverside's Logan Herring with Sen. Chris Coons following the announcement REACH Riverside will receive federal COVID relief funds.

Herring expects construction of the new center can begin in the spring of 2023. The new structure, to be built northeast of the present center at 2300 Bowers St., would double the size of Kingswood’s Early Learning Academy, allowing to serve 250 children, including infants, and expand the existing senior center. Other features would include an expanded ChristianaCare health center, a large gym, an expanded community garden area and office space for other community services.

Another significant piece of the redevelopment is an effort to strengthen businesses along North East Boulevard that would serve community residents. The key to this effort is a project called RESTORE, for Real Estate Strategy To Obtain Racial Equity.

“We want to acquire vacant and dilapidated properties and bring in businesses that are beneficial to the community,” Herring says. The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation has awarded a $500,000 grant to launch a fund that would enable REACH Riverside to buy properties, invest in land swaps and employ a variety of strategies to cultivate a commercial corridor. One of RESTORE’s key goals is to establish a neighborhood grocery store.

As part of the redevelopment, additional supports will be made available to Riverside residents. One of them, called EMPOWER, for Economic Mobility Places Ownership Within Everyone’s Reach, will design programs to help residents develop the skills, knowledge and behaviors needed to attain economic mobility and financial independence. Features of the program include family support services like emergency food and clothing and transportation assistance; financial literacy services like debt counseling and credit building; health and wellness support through screenings and mental and behavioral health services; and economic stability support like employment coaching and job training.

REACH Riverside offers regular updates on the redevelopment initiative through a series of “Lunch & Learn” events, now being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-hour sessions are held at noon on Mondays once or twice a month. More details are available here.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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