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Central Delaware
House of Pride seeks to re-occupy vacated properties
House of Pride executive director Bishop Marion Lott points of areas of a vacant home at 38 S. New Street that need work as property manager Mary-Beth Johnson and men from the House of Pride perform repair work. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Bishop Marion Lott is aware of the House of Pride’s reputation, and he knows the news surrounding the drug and alcohol addiction-treatment center in Dover hasn’t been particularly promising recently.

But in an effort to switch the focus because of the organization’s efforts since it was founded by Marion Harris more than 30 years ago, Bishop Lott has continued to press forward through a difficult few months.

“If we focus on those [positives], we’ll be able to make the corrections that are needed,” he said, while standing in front of one the organization’s properties on South New Street on Tuesday. “Corrections can always be made. There’s always a way to achieve your goals.”

The organization has been in the news regularly since early 2011, with public hearings surrounding multiple code violations in properties along South New and North New streets. In April 2012, a second-floor fire at 38 S. New St. — determined by the city’s Fire Marshal’s office and Police Department to have been accidentally caused by smoking material — left one man dead.

Currently there are six men in the program, but none of the recovery services provided to them are being done in house. Men are taken to Alcoholic Anonymous and other meetings when needed, Bishop Lott said. One of the future goals for the organization is to have in-house services provided, but those details are still in the works.

The most recent string of bad news for the treatment center began in late August, when Ms. Harris announced she was stepping down as director, effective Sept. 1.

Then, a week later on Sept. 9, the organization’s board was unsuccessful in appealing a city planning and inspection department’s order to vacate three of its seven properties — 29 and 37 S. New St. and 20 N. New St. Inspections in July revealed 54 code violations between the three properties.

Following a board meeting on Sept. 17, Herb Konowitz, a seven-year board member, and Sandra Dean, a five-year board member, both made the decision to leave the organization.

The first step toward a better future will take place today, when House of Pride representatives meet with the city’s Construction Code Appeals Committee to obtain Certificates of Occupancy for the three buildings that were ordered to be vacated by the city in September. The committee, which has not met since July 29, 2009, is made up of Councilmen Adam Perza (chair) and Sean Lynn, and city manager Scott Koenig.

Bishop Lott, who was appointed House of Pride executive director after Ms. Harris’ resignation, said the organization has been working with the city to move down the path of least resistance in regards to opening those buildings back up.

“We’ve done tours with the city inspectors and made the changes they wanted,” said Bishop Lott.

Two significant examples include making the required changes associated with turning 37 S. New St. and 20 N. New St. from two-story apartment dwellings to single-family homes.

“We want to get all the information and then apply it,” said Bishop Lott.

Helping Bishop Lott check improvements off the to-do list has been Mary-Beth Johnson, who is retired from the Air Force and now lives locally. She has been volunteering with the House of Pride for four years and took over as property manager shortly after the unexpected death of Ms. Harris’ son Larry Harris in May. At the time, Mr. Harris had been serving as the organization’s property manager for a number of years.

“When her son died, we really needed someone,” said Ms. Johnson, who is working full-time free of charge, while taking a break from installing gutters on the south side of the house at 37 S. New St. “My mother taught me when I was younger how to refurbish homes.”

The city’s order to vacate came as a result of code violations that were cosmetic in nature and easy to fix, Bishop Lott said.

“They just had to be done,” he said, adding that the buildings are structurally sound.

Bishop Lott wants to continue to work with the city as changes are made in the organization’s future.

“We’re trying to meet the city’s obligation. We’re not going into this meeting as an adversary. We are doing the best we can to comply with what the city is asking us to do,” he said.

The meeting takes place in City Hall’s Council Chambers, 15 Loockerman Plaza, at 3 p.m.

Staff writer Chris Flood can be reached at 741-8230 or cflood@newszap.com.

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