Commentary: Sussex desperately needs housing for the working poor

April 9, 2019

The Sussex County comprehensive  plan and every expert I talk to are saying we desperately need “smaller spaces” to live.  This means affordable, high-density workforce housing.

But current low-density codes and ordinances are written to not allow for affordable housing to actually get built in Sussex County.  And the best “affordable” that you can offer is now priced at $230,000 a unit or $1,200 a month which is out of reach for over 30,000 Sussex County households who desperately need housing now.

So we can’t even call “affordable housing” affordable anymore and now over 30,000 can’t live anywhere in the county.  And the wealthy retirees who are moving in from other states have loud NIMBY voices who will keep housing densities low and housing prices high.

Even Lisa, the young economist the county just hired, will say the same things six months from now that I am telling you today. Unless we allow for high-density designs, smaller-place living and basic incentives for the land development community, the housing shortage catastrophe will continue to get worse day after day, month after month. 

Our working poor with two jobs each are working 60 hours a week, scared to death, voiceless, oppressed and too overwhelmed to be able to be present at Sussex Council meetings at 10 on a Tuesday morning to tell you all about it.

So I am here to tell you about the Subway sandwich makers, the coffee-brewing people, the workers at supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, chicken plants, schools and hospitals. These are the people who need to double up or triple up with family in homes with one bathroom or to live outside our county in order to find a safe place to rest at night. 

We are now in the midst of a housing shortage catastrophe for people making $20 an hour or less. We may need to activate the Sussex County emergency system in order to prevent our working-class citizens from freezing to death in the coming winters.

I am small and powerless myself, but I will be at Sussex Council every Tuesday for my three minutes around 10 a.m. to remind council members, the people who have the power, to fix this crisis for people making around $20 per hour.

For the people making $10 an hour or less, I am doing all I can to help them out of homelessness. Let’s team up and do God’s work together. Stepping up to help others is what is expected of all of us. There are many ways that we can make a difference in the lives of others who are vulnerable and desperate.  I hear God asking us to do the right things by sheltering, feeding, showering, and simply opening our doors to provide sanctuary for the weak and “down-and-out” from the fierce world we live in.

Sometimes a human being who is hurting just needs to sit, feel safe, share food, conversation, use the bathroom and just know that someone cares. Please help me find a way to build places for people to rest in our communities. We can practice small acts of kindness by allowing these smaller living spaces that can create the momentum of hope, and I see God leading us in this work and God will provide for us and help us find ways to shelter, love and care for others.

I hope to create a worker’s world inside “smaller living space,” high-density communities in Sussex County. Help me change a working-class desperation into a working-class aspiration so people who are the working poor can aspire to a better day instead of being desperate to just barely survive a day in our rural Sussex County.

Jim Martin, who was once himself homeless, is director of Shepherds Office in Georgetown and is an advocate for the homeless.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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