Many Sussex County workers commute from mid- and western Sussex to jobs in the resort area because they are priced out of the housing market in eastern Sussex.
One-third of all new homes built since 2012 list for more than $400,000, which is out of reach of many working households, according to a report by LSA Planning, a housing consultant firm hired by Sussex County.
Of the 3,600 homes listed for sale in May, 20 percent cost at least $500,000 and 213 were listed at more than $1 million. Thirty-three percent were listed under $300,000 and 13 percent were listed under $200,000.
Thirty-three percent of workers can afford homes costing $140,000 to $200,000 with two workers in the household making approximately the same wage. The average sales price of a Sussex home this year has been in the $325,000 range, which is driven up by higher-priced homes on the eastern side of the county.
The majority of higher-priced homes are in eastern Sussex while the majority of lower-priced homes can be found in western Sussex with a concentration in the Seaford-Laurel area.
Based on strategies in the 2018 comprehensive plan, the consultants were hired to complete an affordable housing study and assess the county's housing needs, and develop recommendations for county council to consider.
Consultants: Need for workforce housing
The consultants provide the following summary of their findings:
• Many Sussex County workers and families are unable to afford a home without spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing and transportation, creating a need for housing for these workers.
• There is an immediate need to identify obstacles – financial, regulatory, etc. – that have limited the supply of workforce housing.
• In order to ensure that low- and moderate-income workers and families can find affordable housing, Sussex County officials will need to pursue proactive financing and regulatory strategies that are consistent with housing market and economic conditions in the county.
Given the large portion of the population who work in relatively lower-wage jobs and support the tourism industry, retail sector and agricultural industry, there is a significant need for rental housing with monthly rents – plus utilities – under $1,000.
The need is particularly great for households who can afford homes under $200,000. One-third of the county workforce earns incomes that can afford no more a $200,000 home, but only 13 percent of new homes are listed for under $200,000.
Trying to make ends meet
Consultants found that about 30 percent of county households are housing-cost burdened, spending 30 percent or more of their income each month on housing. “Spending a disproportionate share of income toward housing can leave too little for other necessities such as food, healthcare and transportation,” the consultants said.
To find affordable housing, more people are moving farther away from their jobs, services and other amenities, according to the report. Consultants found spending more on transportation costs outweighs savings gained from living in lower-cost areas of the county.
“With transportation figured in, households spend 56 percent on average for housing and transportation,” according to the report.
Top jobs have lower wages
In the top 10 Sussex job sectors, half of the workers can afford a home costing around $200,000, based on two workers in the household making approximately the same wage.
Of the 81,000 Sussex County workers, nearly 50,000 are employed in four job sectors: accommodation and food services; retail trade; healthcare and social assistance; and manufacturing, including poultry-processing related employment.
Workers in the hospitality sector have an average annual wage of just under $21,000, and can afford monthly rents up to $515 and homes costing up to $144,000.
Retail workers have an average annual wage of $28,000, and can afford monthly rents up to $700 and homes costing up to $196,000.
Workers in the healthcare and social assistance have an annual average wage of $54,000, and can afford monthly rents over $1,000 and homes from $316,000 to $379,000.
Workers in manufacturing have an average annual wage of $45,000, and can afford monthly rents up to $1,100 and homes costing $317,000.
The average annual wage in the county is $41,000, which allows workers to afford $1,000 monthly rent and homes costing up to $284,000.
Public administration workers, including local, state and federal employees, teachers and first responders have an annual average wage of $48,000.
Rents on the increase
In the rental market, since 2012, median rent in the county has risen 10 percent with the greatest increases among units priced $1,000 to $1,500.
In 2017, the median rent in eastern Sussex was $1,075, while the median rent in western Sussex was $861.
A single, minimum-wage worker would need to work nearly 80 hours per week to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment.
More than 3,100 rental units, 20 percent of the total, receive federal assistance, with the majority – 44 percent – in the Seaford-Laurel area in western Sussex. Lewes has 256 units, Milton has 150 and Rehoboth Beach has 105.
In 2017, there were 16,000 occupied rental units in the county, a decrease of 2,000 from 2012. The consultants said part of that decrease is due to a 5 percent increase in home ownership over the same time period.
19,232 building permits for new housing units issued 2012-2018; 4,055 issued in 2018
30 percent of all Sussex homes were built between 2000-2009 with 7 percent since 2014
Nearly 75 percent of all homes built since 2012 cost more than $300,000
65 percent of homes are single-family detached; 13 percent are manufactured homes or RVs; 12 percent are townhomes and duplexes; and 10 percent are multifamily units
42,000 seasonal homes in eastern Sussex County
225,000 full-time residents, an increase of 22,000 residents since 2012
Although Sussex County has the fastest-growing population in the state, the median income is $58,000, which is nearly the same as Kent County, and much lower than New Castle County at $68,000
The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing sector, increasing 15 percent from 2012 to 2017. White population increased 11 percent and black population increased 7 percent.
Total Sussex population
White – 75 percent
Black – 12 percent
Hispanic – 9 percent
Multiracial, other – 2 percent
Asian – 1 percent
Sources: U.S. Census, LSA Planning
To view the Housing Opportunities and Market Evaluation, go to: