Better Homes lives up to its name with project

By Ronald MacArthur

After 34 years, Better Homes of Seaford is in the process of a major $9,513,794 renovation project at Chandler Heights, the organization’s first housing project of six in Seaford, located at the intersection of Chandler Street and Norman Eskridge Highway. Better Homes of Seaford hosted a renovation celebration on Friday, April 22, under a large tent on the Chandler Heights grounds. The celebration was attended by board members including Norman Poole, the president of the board, city and county officials, financial officials, East Coast Property Management staff (management company of the apartment complex), Cathy Gregory, deputy director of the Delaware State Housing Authority, Doris Schnider, president of the Delaware Community Investment Corporation, and Kathy Roberts, president of Discover Bank. Bill Roupp, executive director of Better Homes of Seaford, was emcee of the celebration. Under the project, the 91 apartments in the subsidized complex will have air conditioning and new heating and hot water units and new flooring added. Roupp said that each apartment in the complex will be nearly gutted and reconstructed. Mayor Dan Short called the project a “model for other communities.” “The major topic of this year has been affordable housing,” he said. “What to do about affordable housing is what everyone is talking about. Two lots in Seaford just sold for $55,000 each. We all want economic development, but we will have to work harder for affordable housing like this at Chandler Heights,” he added. Dale Dukes, the president of the Sussex County Council, echoed the comments of the mayor. “I want to thank those of you who had the vision for affordable housing in Seaford,” he said. “We are grappling with this issue in the county right now - it’s become a big issue in the county. You need to thank those who had the vision in Seaford and have been able to keep it going.” Roupp also said that it is important to remember those who had the vision more than 30 years ago. He had particular praise for two members of the Seaford community, Bill Slatcher (who was in the audience) and Harvey Kimbrough, for their work getting the original project off the ground. He said that plaques commemorating their achievement will be placed in the new community center. Cathy Gregory, deputy director of the Delaware State Housing Authority, said that low to moderate income housing projects such as Chandler Heights are facing a crisis in the United States because they are not managed properly. “This is a celebration of a preservation project,” she said. “You saved the units and have been able for the next 20 years to guarantee a rent subsidy for this project. “We need to continue this type of model of preservation and save the units and save the subsidy. Without a good preservation policy [like the one at Chandler Heights] we are behind the 8-ball and not in front of it,” she added.
Construction of a new community center to support social, training, counseling, health care and safety issues is under way, according to Roupp. The office area of the complex is being renovated to include a new laundry facility and the community room with a kitchen, library, computer and training room, conference room as well as storage space and work space. Roupp said that during the renovation project, residents will be moved to vacated apartments. “Meetings were held with tenants in the early stages of pre-development to incorporate their input into the design stage of the renovation process,” Roupp said. “In order to have apartments vacated and available for the contractor to do the necessary demolition and renovation, the tenants are moved within the complex to other vacant units at no cost to the tenants. “A pool of vacant units was created by not re-renting the units as normal move outs occurred over several months prior to the start of renovation construction,” he added. According to Roupp, Better Homes of Seaford developed a comprehensive funding plan to provide financing for the project. With the assistance of NCALL Research, Inc., Better Homes of Seaford, a non-profit agency, was able to receive funding through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA). Better Homes was also eligible for tax credits. Roupp said that in order to be eligible for the tax credits, a new corporation, Chandler Heights, L.P., had to be formed. The tax credits were then sold to the Delaware Community Investment Corporation (DCIC) and they became a partner with Chandler Heights. Roupp said that equity from the sale of the tax credits became part of the financing for the project. DCIC will also hold the first mortgage. DSHA is providing construction funding and deferred second mortgage for the permanent financing. Discover Bank, a Morgan Stanley Company, working through Commerce Bank/Delaware, N.A., is providing construction financing in the amount of $3.3 million at below market rate. This is the fifth Better Homes project that Discover Bank has provided grants and financial assistance to, according to Roupp. Commerce Bank is providing the construction checking account a letter of credit and construction financing and Wilmington Trust handles the operating accounts for the project. Moonlight Architecture is the project’s architect and Ingerman Construction Company is the general contractor. The project is expected to completed in June 2006. Better Homes of Seaford also owns the following: Chandler Heights II, which consists of 24, three-bedroom apartments; Virginia Crest Village, which consists of 27 one-bedroom elderly apartments; Williamsburg Manor, which consists of eight, two-bedroom and 16 one-bedroom elderly apartments; Yorktowne Woods, which consists of 35 one-bedroom elderly apartments; Charleston Place, which consists of eight, two-bedroom and three, one-bedroom elderly apartments (available in mid-summer). Better Homes has a total of 211 affordable housing units in Seaford.

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