Federal, county funds assist with home repairs

Waiting list whittled down a little but still tops 1,200
Tom Harrington, who works for Wood's Construction Co., is replacing a door on a house near downtown Georgetown. BY RON MACARTHUR
February 24, 2014

Low to moderate-income homeowners who need help to make home repairs can apply for assistance, but it could take more than five years before they get it.

Although it's has been pared down a little, there is still a long waiting list for homeowners who want to participate in the Sussex County block grant program.

There are more than 1,200 property owners – 800 in unincorporated areas and another 400 in municipalities – on the list, said Brad Whaley, the county's director of community development and housing. Unless it's a dire emergency, residents in unincorporated areas can wait as long as five to seven years for work to take place, Whaley said.

Over the past two years, Whaley said, the county has funded repairs for more than 100 additional home repair projects in addition to those whose repairs were paid for with federal block grants. Rental properties do not qualify for the program.

Over the past two fiscal years, the county has provided $470,000 from surplus funds to supplement emergency housing repairs. Whaley said about three-quarters of the homeowners assisted with county funds have been over 65 years of age and most have been disabled.

Whaley said priority was given to households without running water, those without heat and those in need of handicap accessibility. Homes with leaking roofs and electrical and plumbing issues were also given top priority.

A 2007 survey showed there are about 3,000 substandard owner-occupied homes in Sussex County. Another 3,500 homeowners are in danger of not having enough money to complete needed repairs to bring homes up to county code. The county's housing department will soon conduct its own study to determine where housing rehabilitation needs are the greatest.

Working through the Delaware State Housing Authority, Sussex County has applied for $2.4 million in Delaware Community Block Grant funding for more than 30 projects in nine cities and communities as well as 80 other projects scattered throughout the county for home rehabilitation, demolitions and sewer hook ups. After a review of the application, the authority typically awards about half of the requested amount.

Whaley said the program assists homeowners with needed repairs, and in doing so it provides jobs to contractors, adding money into the economy with the purchase of building materials.

The average project costs about $15,000, Whaley said. Repairs could include a new roof, bathroom, heating, handicap ramp, doors or windows. Sometimes, he said, structural work is required.

Over 10 years of the program, Sussex County has received more than $12.4 million to rehabilitate more than 1,600 homes. Staff in the county's community development and housing department coordinates, bids and monitors all projects, including those in municipalities.

Public hearings on the block grant application took place in each municipality followed by a Feb. 11 county council public hearing.


Small changes with large impacts

Whaley said even minor repairs can make life-changing improvements for families. He talked about a grandmother in Bridgeville who is raising three of her grandchildren. “She couldn't keep her house warm, and they were forced to live in one or two rooms,” he said.

A crew added insulation, new siding and new windows to make the house more energy efficient, which allowed the family to be more comfortable and also cut down on utility bills.

He also talked about a disabled mother and daughter in Long Neck who were trapped in their home because they had no way to get out the front door. Whaley said a new handicap ramp has opened the world up to them.

After a review of a house in Selbyville, it was found the house was falling in on itself with major structural damage. “We rebuilt sections of the house,” Whaley said. “Not only did it improve the house, but it also helped the neighborhood.”

That project cost nearly $25,000, which is the maximum amount that be spent on one project.

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