County adds two partners to foreclosed homes program

Sussex County Council members on Sept. 29 voted 4-1 to enter into agreements with the Milford Housing Development Corporation and Diamond State Community Land Trust that will add the two groups to the county’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).

William Lecates, director of Community Development & Housing for the county, and CDH staffer Brandy Bennett offered the memorandums of understanding with the two new partners, which mirror an agreement approved in July with Habitat for Humanity.

The agreement with MHDC allows the group to obtain 0-percent-interest loans from NSP funds to acquire and rehabilitate foreclosed homes in targeted areas of the county – mostly in the western and northern areas. MHDC will rehab the homes themselves and then sell them to qualifying home buyers with convention financing. The county funds will be reimbursed at settlement, to go back into the NSP funding pool.

MHDC will be granted a flat administrative fee of $3,100 per home, but if they sell a home to a buyer who makes below 50 percent of the area’s median income, MHDC can receive up to 5 percent of project costs as its administrative fee. If the homes are not sold within a year, the county loan is due to be repaid.

Diamond State, the first statewide community land trust, will use a slightly different process, instead offering a 99-year ground lease of land upon which the former foreclosed homes stand, at $40 per month, while the home owner will own the structure. Diamond State will get 0-percent-interest loans to acquire NSP-qualifying foreclosed homes, but the county will handle the rehabbing.

The county will also put a lien on the home for the amount of an “affordability gap,” so that, in the event the home is ever sold outside the land trust or the land trust ceases to exist, the county would get its money back.

Lecates noted that the county sends out a list of all foreclosed properties in the target areas to the partner organizations to help them find homes to obtain. He emphasized that MHDC and Habitat for Humanity “have been in this business for a while,” while Diamond State is a new entity.

Councilman George Cole asked about whether historical homes in the county’s target areas can be part of the program, and Bennett confirmed that they can, adding that the county’s historical preservation department does a review of any homes in the county housing programs that are considered potentially historical.

“Some are 1920s homes. Some were built two years ago,” Bennett noted. “If they’re foreclosed and people are interested in purchasing them, they are eligible.”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked whether the NSP funds were able to help those going through foreclosure or to prevent it, and Bennett reiterated that the NSP funding is specifically prohibited from going for such uses. It is only available for the purchase of foreclosed properties by new owners, designed to avoid the homes becoming a blight on their towns and neighborhoods.

Lecates emphasized, however, that the county is engaged in guidance programs for foreclosure prevention.

With no copy of a contract with Diamond State available for the Sept. 29 meeting, Councilman Sam Wilson refused to approve the agreements, but the rest of the council agreed to delegate the authority to Lecates and his department to approve a final contract.

Also on Sept. 29:

• The council heard a request from Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary that the county consider bidding out only one year of dog-control services when the county takes over that responsibility in January 2010. The no-kill shelter is due to have its construction bid-ready within two to three weeks, and representatives said they expect to be able to bid for the county contract for dog control in 2011.

Construction on Pet Haven is due to start early this winter and to be complete within 10 to 12 months. All jobs at the shelter will be inside Sussex County, they emphasized.

Safe Haven’s facility will be about 20,000 square feet in size and able to hold about 400 animals, with 14 acres for potential future expansion. The shelter’s structure is “green,” expected to be the first LEED-certified commercial building in Sussex if it is completed on schedule.

Most of its services, including spaying and neutering, are to be low-cost or free. The shelter already has a trap-spay/neuter-return program for cats in place, including work on colonies of cats on farms. They also transport dogs for spaying and neutering and adoption in New England, where potential adopters were said to line up for the potential to adopt one of the dogs from otherwise empty shelters.

“We’re hoping it will be the same for Delaware in next few years, because the dog situation is getting better,” they said.

The facility, located 3 miles outside Georgetown, is expected to have 18 jobs initially, plus any animal control positions, and is expected to grow every year.

• County Administrator David Baker announced that, between Oct. 22, 2007, and Sept. 18, 2009, the county had recovered more than $650,000 in overdue taxes and utility fees by virtue of a “clean hands” policy that requires those monies to be paid before the county will issue permits and approvals.

• Baker also announced that the county’s prescription discount card program, offered through the National Association of Counties (NACo), is now offering the ability to print the discount cards at home or work via an online form.

Anyone wishing to print a card can go online to, click on “print a card now,” fill out state, county and general information, print the card and then use it immediately.

The card generates an average of 20 percent savings on prescription drugs. Since November of 2007, 5,300 people have used the cards to save $186,000 combined. Pre-printed cards are also available in county buildings, local libraries, town halls and senior centers.