County considering additional funding for low-income housing rehab

GEORGETOWN — Ongoing efforts in Sussex County to upgrade substandard housing and related infrastructure for eligible low-income homeowners is drawing high priority from Sussex County Council.

As county staff tackles development of the fiscal year 2017 budget, councilman George Cole wants to know if the county can ante up additional funding to address what he terms a “major problem.”

“We’ve got a big list on these houses; we just kind of nip at the edges of this problem. It has been that way for years,” said Mr. Cole after a Feb. 2 public hearing and presentation by Brad Whaley, Sussex County’s community development and housing director on the Community Development Block Grant program. “The county portion of our additional funding has varied over the years. Is there any intention in this upcoming budget, which we will be starting to work on very shortly, that we will have some additional funding for this problem, because it’s a major, major problem?”

“We would certainly look from the council’s perspective and see what your direction would be. And if we want additional money from the county we would budget that,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “It certainly does ebb and flow based on budget constraints. If this is a priority that the council chooses for us to take on this year then we can allocate more money.”

In the current FY16 budget, the county contributed $100,000 that was used to assist 51 households, Mr. Whaley said. Previous amounts were $300,000 for FY15, $250,000 for FY14 and $220,000 for FY13.

Mr. Lawson noted that there is “a threshold of putting more money in the budget, and also how much Brad’s office can actually accomplish. In other words to exaggerate to make the point, we couldn’t give a million dollars with the staffing level that he has right now, because he couldn’t get to all of the work that is out there with that staffing level.”

Mr. Cole suggested that the county staff recommend to council “a comfort level you could live with as a staff.”

“Based on that feedback we will make a recommendation this year,” said Mr. Lawson.

To augment federal money it receives through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as allocated by U.S. Congress, county council has provided additional emergency funding over the years.

Because Sussex County and Kent County are not big enough to request funding directly from HUD, the Delaware State Housing Authority requests funding.

“We will apply to them. They form a review committee and they will ride through communities,” said Mr. Whaley. “Some communities will score higher. It’s very competitive.”

The CDBG program provides lien-protected funding for such things as rehabilitation, demolition and housing code enforcement to maintain or improve existing housing and for the provision of infrastructure in support of housing development for low- and moderate-income persons.

A lien is placed on the property for the amount of the grant funding spent and is age-dependent on the age of the homeowner.

Sussex County’s CDBG request is $2,016,000. There is an additional $100,000 that is the county’s matching administrative allowance for salaries of the five-person staff.

In comparison, Mr. Whaley said that approximately $2 million is allocated for Sussex and Kent counties.

“Our request is over that. So what the housing authority will do is they’ll pull the applications apart and they will score them competitively,” said Mr. Whaley.

For 2014 the county received more than $1.5 million and assisted 230 households.

“We’re working now on the 2015 funding and getting our application ready for the 2016 year,” Mr. Whaley said.

Over the last five years, Sussex received $6.8 million in CDBG funding, which assisted 828 households and 1,307 residents, mostly in low-income levels.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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