County seeking moderately-priced projects

It's been a few months since Sussex County Council approved the Moderately-Priced Housing Unit (MPHU) program, but with the deadline for the first round fast approaching, the county is reminding developers that they’ll need to submit their applications before April 10.

Council adopted the program in January, on a 4-1 vote (Council Member George Cole opposed).

To recap, developers with larger projects (35 or more residential units) may receive expedited reviews and bonus densities, if they agree to build a certain percentage of homes that would be affordable to households earning between 80 percent and 125 percent of median income.

Sussex County’s median income is figured at $39,000 for one person, $44,000 to two-person households, $50,000 for three-person households, and so on.

Density bonuses increase as home prices approach affordability for 80-percent of median earners, with smaller bonuses for homes priced for 125-percent earners.

Homebuyers in the 80-percent-of-median range could reasonably manage a mortgage on a $95,000 to $125,000 home, roughly. Homebuyers in the 125-percent-of-median range could reasonably manage payments on a home in the $160,000 to $210,000 ballpark.

From the county: “(the program) aims to increase the county’s housing stock for middle-income professionals, such as teachers, nurses and police officers.”

Homeowners could build some equity through improvements to the property, but the MPHU program would link the home’s base appreciation to cost-of-living increases, for 15 years. If the home remained within a family for 15 years, it could be sold at fair market value.

Sussex County’s Bill Lecates (director, Community Development & Housing) said he felt confident the county would have at least a couple of proposals to consider. “It’s generated a lot of phone calls,” he said. “A lot of people have asked us to mail them information.”

He said he expected the county would probably receive a few proposals from outside the Level 1 growth areas (Town Centers, Developing Areas or the Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area). However, at least for the first round, Lecates said he intended to focus on projects that satisfied MPHU guidelines as written.

“We’re not going to exclude any developers from consideration, but if they’re outside Level 1, they probably won’t get it,” he said.

Still, with strong interest from at least two developers, he said he felt the program was off to a good start. Lecates suggested a slow start might be best anyway, giving the county an opportunity to work out the glitches.

“But since the intent is to provide affordable housing, I would recommend that council accept any qualified applicants (if there are only two or three proposals),” he said.

Additional information about the MPHU program is available on the county Web site, at The first round of Requests for Proposal ends at 4 p.m. on April 10.