June 24, 2005

Realty transfer tax generated by the expected sale of the Brookview apartments complex could be used to help residents displaced by the proposed redevelopment of the area, County Councilman John Cartier told a community meeting.

State Representative Gregory Lavelle said, however, that he has "floated that idea around a little bit" among his colleagues in the General Assembly and "it hasn't been warmly received."

Cartier estimated that the tax on a transaction of that size of would come close to $1 million. The realty transfer tax is a state tax which is partially shared with the county in which the property involved in the transaction is located. Earmarking it for Brookview would require state legislation, but failing that County Council presumably could appropriate an amount offset by its share.

Lavelle said the idea has two considerations going against it. For one, he said, a special arrangement would be considered precedent-setting. It also would be a case in which public money would be spent to further a private transaction.

In a different context, Councilman Robert Weiner told the meeting sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Jun. 22 that there "is enthusiasm on the part of the prospective purchaser" for reaching an agreement with county government on an arrangement by which the developer would receive breaks on such things as allowable density and sewer capacity in return for commitments to providing 'affordable' housing and help with relocation.

Weiner pointedly did not identify the prospective purchaser but, as Delaforum has previously reported, knowledgeable sources have said it is Wilmington-based Commonwealth Group. A sale price of $32.5 million has been talked about.

Janet Kramer said the League of Women Voters is especially concerned with the "lack of 'affordable' housing throughout New Castle County." A living unit, whether owned or rented, is considered 'affordable' if it costs no more than 30% of the household's income.

Weiner and others have advocated that Brookview be redeveloped to include what the councilman referred to as "a substantial number" of units which would be offered for sale at a below-market price. A combination of that and available programs for assisting first-time homebuyers would enable at least some of Brookview's present tenants to end up with mortgage payments not much higheer than they are now paying in rent.

"It takes a stretch of the imagination to talk about 'affordable' housing for 400 to 600 families," said Zelma Gary, one of the organizers of a Brokview tenants council, the equivalent of a civic association, now being organized.

It is uncertain how many households there are in Brookview. The complex has about 630 units. Occupancy estimates range downward from 500. Weiner said current thinking is that a redeveloped Brookview -- considered a key component of the Claymont Renaissance -- will consist of as many as 1,200 units, most of which would be sold although there could be some rented.

Lavelle pointed out that "not everyone [who lives there] will need financial help" either with purchasing one of the new units or with moving. Delaware State Housing Authority provides some support for those in need and there are other sources of assistance,  he said.

"You don't get money just because you're there. You have to show that you need it," he added.

Gary said that a relatively large portion of Brookview residents are "thinking of staying where we are." She said the tenants council is going to take a survey to come up with specific data.

In any event, it is agreed that there is a considerable amount of time to make and follow through with arrangements. The first two years after the sale goes through will be spent planning the redevelopment in detail. Construction would take four or more years with building being done in phases determined by the market that develops for the new community, Weiner told the meeting, which was attended mostly by persons active in civic affairs or with interested organizations along with a scattering of Brookview residents.

"We're very early [in the process]. We're going to have time to plan, time to address the human concerns in a concrete way," Cartier agreed.

"Too many people have too much at stake," Gary said. "We intend to have continuous dialogue every step of the way. ... Remember, we're not just numbers; we're people."

2005. All rights reserved.

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