by Terry Rogers
On Monday, January 28, Milford City Council approved a change in zoning for the former Milford Armory and a lease agreement with Delaware Community Reinvestment Act Council (DCRAC). The organization helps clients understand how to use credit while also promoting equal access to credit and capital through education, outreach, advocacy and legislation.
“The organization will use the Armory building,” Rob Pierce, Planning and Economic Development Director, said. “Parks & Recreation will continue to use the outbuildings. The group plans to use the upper level for now and are going to begin a capital campaign to refurbish the lower levels to use for additional groups with the same goals and objectives.”
The City purchased the building from the State of Delaware for one dollar in 2014. An open house was held in December 2014 which allowed members of the public to provide input into what the building could be used for in the future. After a study conducted by the City, it was determined that the building would require too much work to use as a police station and that building a new station would be more cost effective.
“Our goal has been to find a master tenant,” Pierce explained to Council. “DCRAC will work to get other non-profits to use the remainder of the building once the renovations are complete. We have separated the utilities from the main building and the Parks and Recreation building. Any other tenants that would occupy the space would need to be approved by the City.”
Councilman Jason James questioned whether the services provided by DCRAC are needed in the community. Lillian Harrison, Housing Director of DCRAC, explained that there was a definite need for this type of assistance in the Milford community.
“My case load alone has grown substantially over the past year,” Harrison said. “We have been looking for a building with better accessibility throughout the state as our case load in Kent has grown significantly. For the first year, we will be focusing on raising money to do the work on the building that is necessary. We are asking for time to get that up and running. Once we have completed the repairs, we will be in better condition to seek more partners.”
Jack Dickerson, who lives across from the Armory, wanted to know who would be responsible for yard maintenance while another neighbor, Greg Kelly, had concerns about the crumbling exterior. Eric Norenberg, City Manager, explained that the City had agreed to continue cutting the grass and doing some of the maintenance outside the building for at least the first year. Harrison told Council that DCRAC had been in discussions with the City about repairs that were necessary to the outside of the building and that they were willing to work that into the capital campaign.
“We just had a building donated in Wilmington that required similar repairs,” Harrison explained. “We raised over $500,000 for that building with a capital campaign and I fully believe we will be successful in raising that much in this area.” Harrison said that all partners will be community-based and provide services that work well with what DCRAC offers their clients.
DCRAC was founded in 1987 with a goal to encourage financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. In 1995, the organization added a Credit Clinic and additional services have been added over the years. The program offers credit, housing and tax advice to low- to moderate-income families.
Harrison explained that the group takes very seriously the needs of the City and the surrounding area. In discussions with the City of Milford, they realized there was a significant need in the large Haitian community in the town. They brought on a Haitian interpreter to address that issue. DCRAC became aware of a large homeless population in the City and are able to offer day jobs that can help those who are in need of housing move into transitional housing with the goal of finding them permanent housing down the road.
“This organization provides services to people in our community to help them get that first mortgage, to develop better financial plans,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “The first time she came to us, Kent County was also here asking us for $30,000 to help our people. Lillian was here offering to spend money to help our people. I think we need to do whatever we can to help them.”
Valerie Newsome spoke in support of the organization as well. “I think this is a phenomenal idea for Milford,” Newsome said. “I grew up in this town, I have worked for over 20 years at Milford School District, and I see a need for this every day. We have needed this in Milford for a long time and I am thrilled to see this happen.”
The measures passed unanimously.
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