A long-awaited affordable housing project in Wilmington is now underway.
After over a decade of community backlash, multiple market and environmental studies and trips to court, a project to restore and expand the century-old H. Fletcher Brown mansion is finally underway.
The first iteration of the project proposed tearing down the historic mansion, which outraged some locals. Others didn’t want to see the home turned into affordable housing.
But after two rounds in Delaware Supreme Court, a compromise was finally reached. While it has taken much longer than expected to get the project off the ground, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki says that in the end, it’s worth the wait.
“This project adds new meaning to the saying that all good things are worth waiting for," Purzycki said. "It’s a long time coming but in the development business – as I’ve been for a good bit of my life – I just know that sometimes that’s what it takes, some of these things are so hard, they just frustrate the dickens out of you.”
Henry Fletcher Brown donated his private mansion to the Ingleside Homes senior community and retirement home in 1954. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester says Brown’s vision is now becoming a reality.
“His legacy is unquestionably felt across our city and our state," Blunt-Rochester said. "And he donated that mansion along with his wife with the specific goal that that would be used for our aged population – or reasoned as I like to call us, now that I’m over 50.”
The mansion was a neighborhood association meeting place for years until 2008 when mold and asbestos made it unsustainable.
With the help of federal, state and local funding, the $12 million project will house 35 low-income seniors and be home to a hair salon and community space. Its garden is also slated to receive transformation, with Rodney Robinson in charge of all landscaping. Robinson has worked on other major projects including the Nemours Mansion and the National Botanical Garden.
"He's already got it down to the plants he's going to select," said Cathy Cessna with Ingleside Homes.
The mansion – once restored – will be a "green" building, and both the mansion and garden will be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cessna said the mansion's proximity to Ingleside Homes will also allow seniors living in the new rooms to receive care from social workers and other staff employed by Ingleside. She says that will help save a lot of money in the long run.
Ajit George and his wife have lived nearby for 24 years. George is happy to see the project finally coming to fruition.
“To see this historic mansion – which has been boarded up - transformed into a living place for living people, that’s a pretty phenomenal thing," George said.
The project should be completed in 18 months. In addition to serving low-income seniors, the renovated mansion will also accept housing applications from disabled adults.