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Habitat seeks building lots to meet demands for affordable housing

Rising land prices and fewer property donations slow plans
December 17, 2017

Sussex County Habitat for Humanity is one of the county's main resources providing affordable homeownership for low-income families. But the organization is finding it increasingly difficult to acquire suitable building lots for its rapidly growing home construction program.

"Providing affordable housing is always a challenge," said Kevin Gilmore, executive director of the local Habitat affiliate. "But it's getting even more challenging here in southern Delaware. Real estate prices are climbing again, making land purchases more difficult for us, and land donations - the lifeblood of our construction program - are not keeping up with our need for new building lots."

Sussex Habitat builds and rehabs 12 to 15 homes per year, and has more qualified homeownership applicants than building lots in its inventory.

"There are plenty of properties out there," said Jack Moore, Habitat's property acquisition coordinator. "But affordable properties? Not so much. At least not in our current target areas of Laurel, Seaford and Ellendale. We build and rehab attractive, modestly sized homes that appraise for between $150,000 and $165,000. By using volunteers and donated materials, Habitat can manage construction costs. The price of the property then becomes the critical variable. To make the numbers work, we generally need to purchase properties at below-market pricing. We're just not finding very many that are suitable and priced right."

Of course, Sussex Habitat relies primarily on donated lots to keep its overall construction budget in check. Moore is quick to point out that donors may enjoy certain tax benefits while knowing their donation will make a huge difference in another family's life.

"We typically build new homes, but more and more we are rehabbing existing homes. We'll take an older home and install a new roof, update the kitchen and baths, put in a new HVAC system, make sure the electrical and plumbing systems are in good working order, and refurbish the interior to get it ready for a new Habitat homebuyer," said Moore.

"Everyone deserves a safe and comfortable home," said Gilmore. "But not everyone can achieve that without a little help. That's where Habitat is able to make a difference. The families that come to us for assistance typically have one or two working parents and currently live in substandard, often temporary housing. So a Habitat home is enormously helpful in stabilizing that family and then getting them on an upward trajectory. But this is no hand-out. Our clients must qualify for a mortgage and must be willing to contribute 200-plus hours of sweat equity in the construction of a Habitat home."

To discuss options about donating or selling buildable land or a rehab-worthy home to Sussex County Habitat, contact Jack Moore. Sussex County Habitat encourages potential donors to speak to a tax advisor to learn more about the financial benefits of making a donation.

To make a contribution or volunteer, call Sussex County Habitat for Humanity at 302-855-1153 and go to sussexcountyhabitat.org.