Patricia Skinner cheered Wednesday as New Castle County Councilman Bill Powers used a backhoe to punch a hole through the front door of the vacant house at 207 E. Lake St.
“Tear it down,” she shouted. “Tear it down.”
As Powers switched places with County Executive Tom Gordon, Skinner said she was thrilled to learn that four vacant homes on the street will be demolished this week to make way for up to ten new townhouses being built by Habitat for Humanity.
“I’ve been praying they would do something like this,” the former East Lake Street resident said. “People need houses to live in and hopefully this will help get the drugs out.”
The homes – which include 129, 131, 205 and 207 E. Lake St. – were purchased by Habitat over the last several years with less than $100,000 in federal grant funding allocated by New Castle County government.
“What we’re trying to do is work with Middletown and New Castle County to transform East Lake Street and revitalize it,” Kevin Smith, the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County, said during Wednesday’s demolition ceremony. “Today represents a continuation of those efforts as we take down two structures that have become eyesores in the neighborhood, while the other two properties have been notorious drug activity problems for the town of Middletown.”
Smith said Habitat plans to begin building four townhouses at 205 and 207 E. Lake St. in mid-2014, along with four other townhouses on a vacant lot about a block away that will be called Grace Point II. Another townhouse or two are slated for construction at 129 and 131E. Lake St. in 2015.
Each of the two-story townhouses will be partially built by the families who will eventually occupy them. Habitat requires each adult family member to put in 225 hours of “sweat equity” before they can purchase the roughly $150,000 homes with a zero-interest mortgage.
To qualify, families must be first-time homebuyers who currently lack adequate housing and earn between 30 and 60 percent of the median income in New Castle County.
Buyers also are required to undergo agency-run financial courses and must be debt free at the time of the purchase.
“We have one family scheduled already, and we’re hoping select the others in the next six to eight months,” Smith said.
The new townhouses will mark Habitat for Humanity’s first return to Middletown since August 2010, when the non-profit completed the six-townhouse project known as Grace Point I also on East Lake Street.
Since 1999, the organization has built 22 homes in Middletown with the help of partner families, volunteers, New Castle County, town government and the Big Ball Marathon, which has promised to contribute $20,000 toward the construction of the latest project.
Page 2 of 2 - Middletown town government, meanwhile, has agreed to waive impact fees that otherwise would have been required for the construction of the new homes.
“Getting people into homes that normally couldn’t afford a home is really a great thing,” Powers said. “If you look on this street, and I’ve lived here most of my life, it’s really starting to revitalize this street. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
East Lake Street resident Peter Congo, who watched the demolition begin on Wednesday, said he also would like to see more of the neighborhood’s vacant homes taken down.
“I think they’re doing a good job getting rid of these old vacant houses,” he said. “But there are still a lot more they need to get straightened out around here if they want to make a real difference.”