Better Homes is opening senior apartment complex

By Ronald MacArthur

Better Homes of Seaford officially opened its newest project on Jan. 9, complete with a visit from Congressman Mike Castle. Charleston Place, a community of 11 affordable rental apartments on Phillips Street, is housed in the former Kim Manufacturing and Seaford Garment Co, shirt factory built in the 1940s. The shirt factory, which at one time employed as many as 200 workers, stopped production in 1996. Many of the more than 150 industrial sewing machines were left in the factory when Better Homes purchased the property in 2000 for $121,000. Total funding for the project of $1.5 million was provided by the USDA Rural Development office, the Delaware State Housing Authority and local banks. Rents will range from $345 to $580 a month and there are three one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom apartments in the complex along with office space and a community room. Each apartment is equipped with a washer and dryer. According to Bill Roupp, executive director of Better Homes, the project "took a little longer than expected," but the new tenants are expected to start moving in on Feb. 1. Construction and renovation started in September 2003. Better Homes of Seaford and its managers, East Coast Management Co., also have three other low-income senior projects in Seaford - Williamsburg Manor, Yorktowne Woods and Virginia Crest Village - as well as three subsidized apartment complexes - Chandler Heights (undergoing a major $10 million renovation project) and Chandler Heights II. In all, more than 200 apartments have been built by Better Homes of Seaford. Mayor Dan Short, one of the speakers at the dedication ceremony on Monday, said this is the kind of project that should be held up as a model. "Having grown up in Seaford, I can remember this as a shirt factory and certainly remember it more prominently as being a vacant building - a building that was an eyesore. So today's event is a very good kickoff to what I think is a great future for renovation and revitalization of older buildings," he said. "The keyword now in Sussex County is affordable housing. We are seeing a great growth and escalation of prices with the inability of a lot of people to find a place to live. I think this is a model. I hope this is not your last project," he said. The mayor added that the end result was a lot of hard work by good people. U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, who was making a whirlwind tour of Sussex County, said that providing housing to those who need shows that a community cares. "Affordable housing is vitally important. In my view, Seaford has always been a city with a real sense of presence and this type of project is very important to the people who live here. Seaford is always accommodating to taking care of the needs of the citizens of this wonderful city," he said. "Better Homes of Seaford deserves tremendous congratulations. This is a heck of an undertaking. To think what this building was dating back to the 1940s. Shirts were sewn here - I may be wearing one - I keep my shirts for a long time," he said with a huge grin. "Lo and behold someone got it into their heads to do this - I never would have. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the board and to Bill Roupp's vision in all of this to carry it though. This really takes a lot of perseverance. I don't think nine out of 10 developers who would have seen this would have had anything to do with it to be honest with you.

"And you all had the courage to come forward and continue, and for that you deserve tremendous congratulations." Castle talked about the growth spurt going in Sussex County. "People want to live here. We have low taxes, a wonderful environment, it's a great place to live and we have great people, but there is another aspect to all of this - housing that people may need. Some people may not be able to purchase one of these new homes put in an area with all kinds of amenities or in a city where they have lived all along. "That's what we are here for today because in my judgment, one of the important things that government should be looking for is providing an opportunity for people to live their lives in a comfortable place. It doesn't take very long to realize this is a nice comfortable place to live - home to a lot of people." He said that is where the real "thanks" comes from - the residents who will live in the new apartments. "There is a lot of caring out here in the city of Seaford and I think we should all be proud of that," he said. Marlene Elliott, USDA Rural Development state director, talked about the importance of improving lives of people living in rural areas - "to help our neighbors." USDA helped to provide some of the financing for the construction of Charleston Place. She said that 54 housing projects in the state have received USDA funding. Also present at the dedication ceremony was Jerry Jones, housing/ finance/ development administrator for the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA), which provided $500,000 in a 30-year deferred mortgage. DSHA has provided funding for all of Better Homes projects - $5.4 million in all for 214 units "Better Homes of Seaford is the number one multi-family non-profit developer that we have dealt with in the last 10-15 years. The vision is there," he said. Roupp said that grants and/or financing was also provided by Discover Bank, Wilmington Trust, Chase and PNC. "There were a lot of players involved," Roupp said. Norman Poole, president of the board of Better Homes of Seaford, welcomed those to the dedication and tour of the facility and the Rev. Thomas F. Gross of Mt. Olivet U.M. Church provided the opening and closing prayer. Moonlight Architecture provided architectural services, engineering was done by Doug Parker and Associates, surveying by Temple/Sellers and the general contractor was SonoAntiquairian. Harvey Kimbrough, the first president of Better Homes in 1969, said that former Mayor William Slatcher contacted him about chairing a committee to look into building a low-income housing project in Seaford - the first in the area. The city was the first sponsoring agency of Better Homes. "He wanted to see if we could make it happen. We had all kinds of struggles, but we were successful. But never in our wildest dreams would be have thought of anything like this," he said.

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