Restoring The Flats: Making Affordable Housing Beautiful and New Again

Restoring The Flats: Making Affordable Housing Beautiful and New Again
Topics Commercial Real EstateSuccess Stories

Wilmington, Del. has been a hub for industrial innovation and activity for more than 350 years. When William Bancroft opened the Bancroft Mills along the Brandywine River in the early 1900s, Wilmington quickly became home to hundreds of workers. Bancroft, the founder of Woodlawn Trustees, was a major advocate for affordable housing and one of the first in the area to develop this type of community residences for his employees and their families – which later expanded even beyond Bancroft employees. He felt that he had an obligation to provide housing and thoughtful development to the area – bringing to life what Wilmington locals know today as The Flats.

A portrait of William Bancroft.When the restoration of The Flats began in 2015, finding a banking partner with deep roots in Wilmington who knew what this project meant to the community was a priority for Woodlawn Trustees, a nonprofit real estate development group founded by Bancroft that is responsible for maintaining affordable housing in Wilmington, and the Todmorden Foundation, the nonprofit foundation responsible for the oversight of many original Bancroft properties. Through this restoration project, currently in its fourth phase of development, they are working to rebuild a stronger Wilmington and reinforcing the critical role The Flats has always played.

Making Affordable Housing Beautiful
When William Bancroft set out to establish affordable housing in Wilmington, he intended to provide a living community for the working class that was beautiful and had a sense of pride. More than 100 years have passed since these units were built causing the Flats to become functionally obsolete. It was time to rejuvenate them. For the development team behind The Flats, the goal was to retain the unique historical features of this community while retaining the affordability.

Affordable housing goes beyond providing a roof over peoples’ heads – it provides community, a safe place for people to gather, raise families, and have access to essential community resources.

By designing the communities with an updated touch on the historic brick facades, the buildings will continue to showcase historic architecture while giving it a modern feel with up-to-date appliances, eco-conscious HVAC systems, and more.

Serving All Members of The Community
The Flats housing complex in Delaware.One aspect of The Flats that differentiates the community from other affordable housing developments is that the residences are not just a one size fits all model – they are designed with all potential tenants in mind. Each is inclusive of senior living, family housing, single-person units and more, which is an uncommon quality in these developments.

“WSFS Bank has had the pleasure of being involved in the Flats’ project in Wilmington since the very beginning. We have supported every phase of the project,” said Ron Weingrad, SVP, Commercial Real Estate, WSFS Bank.  “Working with Woodlawn Trustees and their partners has been a pleasure and we look forward to continuing to offer our support throughout the remainder of the project. Like Woodlawn and Bancroft, we are committed to Wilmington and have been for nearly 200 years and we look forward to its bright future.”

Currently, The Flats is starting to design and plan Phase V. Fifty-three units are going to be designed for senior residents. These specific units will serve residents who fall between 30-60% of the area median income and will be financed with affordable housing tax credits.

Additionally, Woodlawn has partnerships for this project with local social service providers such as The Food Bank of Delaware and Delaware Community Reinvestment Council – with specific partners planned for Phase V dedicated to senior services such as St. Francis Hospital, West Side Health, and The Lorelton. Through these partnerships, Woodlawn is working towards establishing services to help and support their residents.

It Takes A Village
For Woodlawn Trustees and the Todmorden Foundation, having the right banking partner was critical to the success of the restoration project. “WSFS has been a part of The Flats from the early stages, funding Phases I, III, and IV, and it was a natural progression for them to become our main source of funding for the development of the project,” says Donna Gooden, Vice President of Operations at Woodlawn Trustees.

The Flats housing complex in Delaware.“Woodlawn’s business model is complex, finding the right banking partner that understands the mission and goals of the foundation was a top priority when deciding on a lending partner. Unlike most traditional developers, Woodlawn’s main priority is to preserve local history. Having a bank that understands the viability of our business model is something that WSFS was able to evaluate and understand,” recalls Rich Przywara, President and CEO of Woodlawn Trustees.

For this historical renovation, it was key to have partners who were truly invested in the transformation of the Wilmington area. For Woodlawn Trustees, having the support of WSFS meant knowing their investment went beyond just financial lending. It meant having a true partner who not only knows the area and it’s needs but is also invested in preserving Wilmington’s traditions and strong ties to the city’s history.

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