The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color and low income communities has been the topic of serious discussion.
And there are many groups trying to address that issue – including some at have already been working in those communities.
One example is REACH Riverside. And Contributor Larry Nagengast checked in with them this week to see what they are doing.
The groundbreaking for the first phase of its redevelopment hasn’t been scheduled yet, but the Reach Riverside organization is launching a short-term project to help residents of the low-income community on Wilmington’s East Side withstand the economic ravages of the coronavirus state of emergency.
The Riverside Relief Fund aims to provide $250 grants in May, June and July to up to 300 households living in Wilmington Housing Authority rental units. Organizations and individuals supporting the REACH Riverside revitalization – a massive plan that includes new housing, a new Kingswood Community Center and expanded social services – are among the early donors in the campaign to raise the $225,000 needed to provide the grants, according to Logan Herring, CEO of the REACH Riverside Development Corporation. (REACH is an acronym for Redevelopment, Education and Community Health.)
“We want to ‘stand in the gap’ … and directly support the needs of a continually marginalized community,” Herring says.
“This pandemic proves that our community is only as healthy as the low-wage worker on the front lines. Whether that person is in our grocery store, doesn’t have a primary care doctor for testing referral or simply living in substandard housing that may have caused asthma and other underlying conditions that may require hospitalization, we will need to help alleviate the strain on our healthcare workers and the shrinking health and human service resources that our neighbors need,” Herring says.
WHA residents learned of the planned grant program this week. “It would really, really be helpful,” says Riverside resident Sonia Paredes, who lives in a 1,000-square foot home near the Kingswood Community Center with her husband and two of their four children. Paredes is unemployed, her husband has had his work hours reduced because of the pandemic and their adult son fears going to work because of unsafe conditions. “We have always been left behind,” says Paredes, speaking of her neighborhood. She has been spending time this week telling her neighbors about the relief fund.
According to 2010 Census data, nearly one-fourth of Riverside’s 3,275 residents were living below poverty levels; 38 percent of the adult population had not finished high school and less than 5 percent had earned a college degree. More than three-quarters of the area’s residents are African American. More than half the housing units in the community were built before 1950.
“We know these families can use a lift. I couldn’t tell you how many of our residents have had reduced hours, are not working now or who have been laid off entirely.” – John Hill, WHA executive director.
As currently planned, heads of households who register for the grants would receive $250 at the end of May, June and July via a reloadable debit card issued by TD Bank, Herring says. The funds would enable households to buy whatever they choose, especially items like diapers, prescription medications, cleaning products and clothing that cannot be purchased with EBT/SNAP and WIC benefits.
“We know these families can use a lift,” says John Hill, WHA executive director. “I couldn’t tell you how many of our residents have had reduced hours, are not working now or who have been laid off entirely. We will impact their lives by providing something for them for a few months.”
While they are significant, the grants are but one part of a broader effort by REACH Riverside to help area residents get through the state of emergency. “We’re having to adapt to a new normal,” Herring said as he ticked off initiatives that include health screenings, expanded internet access and broader use of video streams as a communications tool.
On Thursday, a team from ChristianaCare began screening area residents for symptoms of the Covid-19 virus. Those who manifest significant symptoms will then be tested for the virus. Screenings will continue on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Jimmy Jenkins Senior Center, on the north end of the Kingswood Community Center, 2300 North Bowers St., according to Tynetta Brown, REACH Riverside’s director of development and marketing/communications.
In addition, WhyFly, the Wilmington internet provider, this week installed two rooftop towers, one at Kingswood and the other at The Warehouse, the soon-to-be-opened teen center at 1121 Thatcher Street, so students who don’t have internet access in their homes can sit in the parking lots at the sites, go online and work on their school assignments. While intended primarily to assist students who must now rely on distance learning to continue their school lessons, adults can also make use of the wireless connections, says Jim Shanahan, WhyFly’s vice president for business enterprise development.
“Our commitment is for three months, but we’d like to make it permanent,” Shanahan says. “We’re a local company and we’re invested in the community.”
The Warehouse, whose scheduled mid-April opening was postponed because of the state of emergency, will begin using Zoom to livestream some of its programming to area teens, starting May 4, according to Neonta Kelly, the Warehouse’s program impact specialist. One or two programs will be offered each day, with topics that fit into each of REACH’s five pillars – recreation, education, arts, career and health.
Examples Kelly mentioned include sessions on cooking, hair styling and makeup tutorials, circuit training and an entrepreneurial program like television’s popular Shark Tank series.
Sixteen Warehouse partners will create the programming and the initial offerings will be evaluated after two weeks, says Melody Phillips, the Warehouse’s director of operations.
To participate in the programming, teens must first complete a Warehouse online membership application, where they can receive a Zoom link to the programs of their choice.
The Warehouse will most likely offer limited access to teens for a couple of weeks after the state of emergency is lifted and then hold a grand opening event that will give parents, sponsors and community leaders an opportunity to tour the facility, Phillips says.
Also, REACH Riverside expects to resume its weekly “Lunch and Learn” programs – without serving the lunches – via livestreaming next week, Brown says.
The weekly sessions, which began last April and continued on Mondays through March 9, provided an opportunity for community leaders, residents and others interested in the redevelopment project to meet each other and receive updates on planning and progress.
For the next few weeks, Brown says, the focus of the programs will shift from redevelopment to presentations that will address the virus, why it is important for healthcare providers to focus on Riverside, as well as “structural racism and all the things that have transpired to make the community what it is.” Guest speakers for the initial session will be Rita Landgraf, director of the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Healthy Communities and a REACH Riverside board member, and Michelle Shorter, director of community engagement for the Nemours Children’s Health System.
(The time for the first video Lunch and Learn has not yet been set. For details, check the REACH Riverside website or its Facebook page.)
While REACH Riverside has focused this month on the immediate needs of community residents, its leadership continues to work toward its larger goal – a 10-year revitalization project that would include construction of a mixed-use community with as many as 600 housing units, building a new Kingswood Community Center and developing a business district filled with shops that would meet residents’ day-to-day needs. The cost of the project could reach $250 million, Herring says.
Other pieces of the project include developing a community health and wellness initiative and creating a cradle to college or career-ready education pipeline centered on the EastSide Charter School, which has aspirations of adding high school grades to its current K-8 program.
The new housing would be built in phases on 12 acres owned by Kingswood and 25 acres owned by WHA along Bowers Street. As new homes are built, portions of the WHA’s Riverside project, almost all of it built before 1950, would be demolished.
The first phase of construction is expected to include about 74 units, about 70 percent of them subsidized rental units and 30 percent to be sold or rented at market rates, according to initial plans for the project.
Slight delays in wrapping up financing details have pushed the project’s anticipated spring groundbreaking to July, Herring says.
For guidance in managing the redevelopment, REACH Riverside has become an affiliate of Purpose Built Communities, the nonprofit created by Atlanta businessman and philanthropist Tom Cousins and bankrolled in part by people like billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett. The organization has designated a community development organizer to work directly with REACH Riverside, providing consulting and technical assistance to the local group at no charge.
Pennrose LLC, a Philadelphia –based development company that specializes in mixed-income affordable housing, has been designated to develop and manage the new housing.
Early supporters of the redevelopment include the state, Wilmington and New Castle County governments, WHA, ChristianaCare and the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. The board of directors of the REACH Riverside Development Corporation, the nonprofit created to oversee the revitalization, includes such heavy hitters as Wilmington real estate developer Rob Buccini, Delaware State President Tony Allen, Delmarva Power President Gary Stockbridge, Secretary of Labor Cerron Cade and former state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, whose district included Riverside.