Some Newark residents believe the University of Delaware’s population growth is having an adverse effect on the town and their quality of life.
University officials say they expect between 700 to 800 more undergraduates to enroll over the next four to five years. This year, the school added more than 750 students to its combined undergraduate and graduate population of about 24,000.
That growth worries residents like Douglas Roy. Roy lives on Corbit St. near New London Rd. and says the character of his once-historically black neighborhood has changed.
“We had a sense of family,” Roy said. “If you did something and someone from the neighborhood saw you, they would stop you and either correct you, reprimand you — and then by the time you got home, your parents knew what you had done.”
Developers have converted many nearby homes into student housing, and Roy says he worries neighborhood rent is increasing too much. Newark’s median gross rent was listed as $1,072 in 2015 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to a state 2014 state Housing Needs survey that looks at 2015 to 2020, only 8 percent of rental units in Newark cost less than $500 per month.
With increases to their rent, many residents could no longer afford their homes and have since been displaced, said Florine Henderson, a member of Newark’s NAACP chapter.
Henderson said she had an aunt who lived on New London Rd. Developers called her aunt repeatedly over the phone to ask her about selling her property. She eventually sold the property.
“I feel that the damage has been done, that the community has been trampled upon and there’s new life now. There’s new life in that community and it is not black life,” Henderson said.
The City of Newark says the university is the heart of town. Acting City Manager Tom Coleman acknowledged demand has caused rent to go up — and that’s a challenge the city plans to address.
He says the city is looking at how many housing units they need to add to the stock to keep up with demand and the growing student body.
“The more student apartments we add — it will bring students out of the neighborhoods and into apartments downtown,” Coleman said. “Generally speaking, it appears most students have a preference to live in more modern apartment buildings versus single family homes out in the neighborhoods.”
As for questions about changes to the city’s character, Coleman said gentrification is a problem not unique to Newark.
“Housing stock in a lot of areas is aging...as people move in housing stock turns over, character tends to change," Coleman said. "It is a challenge our city council and our planning commission will need to address: Is preserving character something that the city feels is a need they can incorporate through our comprehensive development plan, process or other ordinances we could set up to preserve characters or neighborhoods?"
He continued, "We can't prohibit someone from buying a property and improving it, if they're doing it by code."