Sussex developing fair-housing plan

Settlement terms dictate county's action
April 10, 2013

More people would qualify for moderately priced housing programs under a plan brought forward by Sussex County's fair-housing compliance officer. Under the proposed ordinance, families of four with an income just under $30,000 would qualify for reduced-price housing.

A fair-housing plan is among steps toward compliance with an agreement regarding a complaint filed against Sussex County.

Sussex County Council signed off on two agreements in the case, triggered by a complaint filed by Diamond State Community Land Trust. The action followed the county’s 2010 denial of the New Horizons development planned near Laurel. The development was designed for low- to moderate-income residents.

Brandy Nauman, the county's fair-housing compliance officer, outlined the plan for county council at its March 26 meeting.

Taking her advice, council introduced an ordinance that would reduce the guidelines for those who qualify for the program to from 50 percent to 125 percent of area median income from the current 80 to 125 percent. Nauman said that would substantially lower annual minimum income qualifications of a family of four from $47,000 to $29,750. “This would expand who qualifies,” she said.

The ordinance faces public hearings in the future before the county's planning and zoning commission and county council.

To date, no developer has participated in the county's moderately priced housing unit program that offers incentives to builders who offer more affordable homes within their communities. Nauman said council might consider adding more incentives to make the program more attractive.

Among her suggestions included mandatory compliance for developments in Level 1 and Level 2, the most desired growth areas; waiving or reducing impact and permit fees; and allowing for design flexibility for affordable units. Council members accepted the report and will respond at a later date.

The county is continuing discussions with Diamond State Land Trust and other providers of low- to moderate-income housing to help create additional incentives for the program to entice developers to provide more affordable homes.

The county recently settled a federal fair-housing case with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Housing and Urban Development agency. As part of the settlement, county officials agreed to name a fair-housing compliance officer and develop an affordable-housing plan to ensure equal housing opportunities continue to be promoted.

The settlement allows developers of a once-denied housing project to resubmit their plans for consideration. County officials admitted no wrongdoing, but the county’s insurance carrier paid a $750,000 financial settlement in the case.

Nauman said on March 8 the county completed a fair-housing training session involving appointed and elected officials. She said the training could be expanded to include municipal leaders, other county staff, lenders and Realtors.

She said the plan includes several outreach initiatives to partner with groups to better market affordable housing, including better identification of foreclosed homes. The plan also includes detailed information explaining the provisions of the county's fair-housing policies and how to file a complaint.


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