Sussex County officials have hired a consultant to help them develop incentives and programs to promote affordable housing, an issue the county has struggled with for more than a decade.
At its Feb. 5 meeting, county council voted to approve a $65,000 bid from Lisa Sturtevant & Associates of Alexandria, Va., for a six-month project.
Brandy Nauman, county fair housing compliance officer, told council there was a lot of comment about affordable housing during the comprehensive plan process from the public as well as council and planning and zoning commissioners. “There is strong support for affordable housing and to identify barriers and opportunities,” she said.
Nauman said the goal is to implement something quickly to make an effective change in affordable housing production in Sussex County.
The county has two ordinances promoting affordable housing. The moderately priced housing program – enacted in 2006 and amended in 2007 and 2013 – and rental program – passed in 2008 and amended in 2016 – offer density bonuses and expedited reviews through the planning and zoning process for participation in the programs.
Initially, six developers applied for the moderately priced housing program and one for the rental program. All applications stalled in the process due to bankruptcy and foreclosures.
Since then, developers have told county officials the existing ordinances are not effective in today's housing market.
Nauman said the consultant plans to form an advisory group, conduct public meetings and garner county council input.
Under the contract, the consultant will conduct a market analysis including the cost to produce affordable-housing versus market-rate housing; evaluate existing and project the demand for affordable housing and market-rate housing; review and evaluate existing county affordable-housing policies; identify barriers that impede development of affordable housing; explore the implications of a mandatory versus a voluntary policy; and identify options for affordable housing construction.
In making recommendations to council, the consultant will provide incentives and alternatives to promote affordable housing, including financial benefits, costs and impacts of the incentives; identify any additional resources, legal or otherwise, necessary to implement recommendations; and provide an overview of the county's operations and organizational structure.
According to a project overview provided in the request-for-proposal process, the housing market in the county is the fastest-growing and most expensive in the state. The median home price in the county is more than $295,000, and almost half of the homes in eastern Sussex are valued at more than $300,000.
For a worker in Sussex County making the median annual income of $46,200, there is a $30,000 annual wage affordability gap to purchase a new home. The average rental cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the county requires a hourly wage of nearly $19. Housing experts say a homeowner should not spend more than 30 percent of income on housing.
A recent Delaware State Housing Authority report found that there is a shortage of housing affordable to workers in the retail, service, healthcare and tourism industries, particularly in eastern Sussex.