Sussex County Director of Community Development Brad Whaley on Tuesday, Feb. 5, presented to the Sussex County Council information on affordable housing issues in the county, noting that the County has been using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to assist county residents for 30 years.

“These funds are specifically designed for housing-related issues to help low- to moderate income residents with housing issues,” he said.

This year, Whaley said, there's about $2.2 million in CDBG funding for the state of Delaware. Over the past five years, the County has received a little over $7.7 million in all, assisting 734 households, equating to more than 1,500 residents being helped.

In the last 10 years, Whaley said, Frankford and Selbyville have received funds — $128,000 and $230,000, respectively — for rehabilitation projects. The funding doesn't solely go to municipalities, said Whaley, noting that people in rural communities in unincorporated Sussex County have also been able to receive funds.

In the 2017 fiscal year, Sussex County received $1,517,854.88 in CDBG and Home Program funding, which assisted 127 low- to moderate-income households.

“We do a lot of tracking of this. More than 70 percent ”of the work using “that funding was completed by companies that qualify under Section 3, which measures the income of workers…” said Whaley. “There's another side of this. … That $1.5 million was paid to contractors, workers and local suppliers. So, it does help both sides.”

In order to qualify for assistance, the property must be homeowner-occupied; the home must be insured or insurable; taxes must be current; and, the owner must agree to a lien placed on the property to secure funding, though the lien is lifted after a period of continued owner occupation.

Whaley said a waiting list is maintained by the County, so as funding comes in, residents may be helped.

“We try to prioritize, focusing on individuals with disabilities, individuals over 65 years of age, households below 30 percent AMI, and veterans.”

Whaley said it's a valuable program for all residents of Sussex County.

“Over the years, I've worked with a lot of town managers and code officers — you may not get to hear this, but I'm told very often how valuable this program is. The towns and cities are very appreciative of the council to do this.”

“There are certainly needs out there,” said Council President Michael H. Vincent. “We can't address all the needs, but we can make an attempt at it and, hopefully, whittle that list down year to year.”

Councilman I.G. Burton asked how many people were waiting to be assisted by the funding.

“County-wide, we have 1,034 names on that list waiting for help,” said Whaley.

“We get [an application] one to two every day in the mail,” added Sussex County Housing Coordinator and Fair Housing Compliance Officer Brandy Nauman.

Whaley said his department isn't sure if all of them can be assisted by the program, but the applications are all collected and placed on the list.

Burton also asked whether those on the list have tried to perform the household maintenance on their own prior to applying.

“Typically, they've done what they can do, family members have done what they can do,” said Whaley. “Typically, one of our largest clients is the elderly female head of household and she's living on a $1,000 a month and doesn't have the funding to pay for bills, pay for heat and do the projects we're helping with.”

The council voted unanimously to authorize the submission of applications to the Delaware State Housing Authority for CDBG funding.

Also, at Tuesday's meeting, Nauman gave an update on bids sought by the County to find qualified consultants that would help evaluate existing programs and offer recommendations for changes.

In the request for proposal (RFP), the County specifically sought market and affordable housing analysis, as well as stakeholder analysis.

“What we hope to get out of it is something you all can act on,” said Nauman, “that we can implement very quickly to make necessary changes in our department of land use to really have an affective change on affordable housing here in Sussex County.”

Nauman said the County received seven proposals, and in January two of the top firms were interviewed.

Lisa Sturtevant & Associates, an Alexandria, Va.-based firm was recommended to the council. A team of four from the firm would work with County staff members, at a cost of $65,160, for a period not to exceed six months.

The council voted unanimously to hire Lisa Sturtevant & Associates.

The Sussex County Council will not meet on Feb. 12. The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 10 a.m.

By Maria Counts

Staff Reporter