Selbyville program will help residents fix their homes

Lower-income families who need home repairs can apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

“We do housing rehab, some infrastructure sometimes, … demolition of places beyond repair,” Mike Jones told the Selbyville Town Council on Dec. 7.

He represents Community Development Housing Office of Sussex County, which applies for federal HUD money on an annual, competitive basis.

In the past decade, the agency invested an “unbelievable” amount of money in Selbyville. More than $800,000 has paid for sewer hookups, electric repairs, heating, roofing, doors, windows and more.

“You guys have really … done a great job over the years,” said Jones, estimating that he’s worked in every Selbyville neighborhood.

The grants are a free program for residents, not a loan. There’s never any money paid back.

However, there is a lien placed against the house, which disappears incrementally over five or 10 years, eventually going down to $0. That ensures the repairs weren’t being made just to help someone sell the house.

Any homeowner who does sell the house in that time period will have to repay a portion of the repairs.

“That’s why I’m here, to keep you in your home,” not just to increase the property value, Jones said.

Contractors are hired to provide the best service possible.

In a sense, one CDBG project could cause a renovations domino effect.

“When I do a house … it’s the ugly duckling” of the neighborhood, Jones said. But when that house is repaired, that usually prompts neighbors to bring their houses up to snuff.

Although the Town can recommend households, Jones asked that people also call the office and fill out paperwork, which saves time when their turn comes. It also helps him know what they need.

Houses must be owner-occupied. There is a household income maximum ($35,500 for one person, $50,650 for four people and so forth).

Individuals can call (302) 855-7777 to learn more. The program is first-come, first-served.

The town council again readily approved the town’s participation in this program. However, there was one bone to pick.

“I deal with every town in the county,” Jones said. “There’s no harder town to get a building permit from.”

Some contractors won’t bid on CDBG’s Selbyville projects because of the stringent permitting process, Jones said.

Other municipalities can issue a permit in one day, but Selbyville takes three to five days, Jones said, and the County must then approve permits, too.

Perhaps an old lawsuit caused Selbyville to be more cautious, Jones speculated. Either way, Selbyville doesn’t have to change the permitting process. But it could hinder future CBDG projects.

Government money requires Jones to collect at least three bids per project, but it’s getting hard as more contractors avoid Selbyville jobs, he said.

Because CDBG’s funding is granted in February, Selbyville still has time to review the permitting process and make changes.

“I appreciate you being honest with us,” Councilman Jay Murray said.

Selbyville town staff will review the permitting process.

Selbyville’s current permitting process usually takes up to three days, said Town Administrator Michael Deal. The contractor applies to Town Hall. Then the building inspector visits the house, and the application proceeds from there.

“It’s not our intent to make it difficult,” Deal said.

He and the council members said they thought they followed the standard International Building Code, as do most municipalities.

In other Selbyville Town Council news:

• Although the Annexation Committee and Sussex County recommended that two acres on Cemetery Road be annexed into the town, the final approval has hit a snag, said Councilman Clarence W. Tingle Jr.

The State of Delaware said the property would be slated for the general commercial district, according to Selbyville’s Comprehensive Plan. But property owners Fred J. O’Neal III and Richard A. O’Neal Sr. want to build houses there, in R-1 or R-4 Residential districts.

Selbyville could change the comp plan or grant the O’Neals a conditional use.

The 38,488-square-foot parcel is located at Tax Map and Parcel No. 5-33, 16.00, 62.00.

• The Selbyville Police Department reported an encouraging number of applicants to fill a vacant officer position.

• SPD will be focusing on protecting shopping centers at night, which Police Chief W. Scott Collins said has already improved safety in one area.

• The Selbyville Public Library is one of many local Toys for Tots drop-off locations.

• The town council expressed gratitude toward residents whose holiday décor has helped brighten the town. The Town’s own streetlamp decorations got an upgrade, stripped of garland and replaced with LED lights.

• The Board of Election was reappointed for another year: Virginia Pepper, Bonita Maull and Sandra Givans.

• After the pH regulator malfunctioned this spring at the wastewater treatment plant, Selbyville has used a new chemical called Aquamag.

“At present, it’s working great, … knock on wood,” Councilman. Frank Smith III said of the small-scale system.

Currently, the plant stores Aquamag (magnesium hydroxide) in two 550-gallon tanks. By also adding a “temporary” 2,500-gallon tank, Selbyville could save money by purchasing Aquamag in bulk.

A more permanent system could cost around $100,000, but the official price will be determined when the project goes to bid. Smith has said the chemical is less caustic and more employee-friendly than the old lime silo.

The next regular Selbyville Town Council meeting is Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, at 7 p.m.