Activists urge residents to demand affordable housing
At a Pathways to Success virtual workshop on April 29, a panel of housing advocates said it was time for Sussex County residents to stand up and demand more affordable housing.
They also said it was paramount for Sussex leaders to tackle the growing problem of substandard housing.
Loretta Benson, executive director of the Ellendale Civic Association, said there are 20 trailers in the community of New Hope that are not suitable for human life, but officials will not take action. “This kind of situation has gone on for too long,” she said. “People need a decent place to live. Enough is enough. We cannot keep talking about it.
She said there are pockets of substandard housing scattered throughout Sussex County. Workshop co-host Dominique Scott, Education and Outreach Coordinator for Pathway’s Fair Housing Initiative, said there are 24 pockets of poverty in the county where housing is an issue major.
Lack of affordable housing
Panelists agreed that a major barrier is the lack of affordable housing in East Sussex County, primarily for people who are forced to drive from other places to work in the area.
Melody Taylor, region 3 director of HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunities office, said that with homes selling in the $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 price range in eastern Affordable housing for most working people is out of reach. “People’s wages don’t match the costs of housing and they can’t pay rents or mortgages,” she said. “Officials should be looking at affordable housing in a price range of $ 200,000 or less. They don’t help people who want a place to live.
Strong demand for rentals
Benson said rents starting at $ 1,000 a month and above also make apartments out of reach for many people.
Contrary to a statewide and nationwide trend, the number of rental units in Sussex is on the decline, falling by more than 2,000 between 2012 and 2017. Sussex County has the most low number of rental units (20%) in the region.
In Sussex, the annual income needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment is $ 29,240 and a 2-bedroom apartment is $ 37,920.
The county has an affordable rental program offering incentives, including a 20 percent bonus density, to developers who include affordable income-based units in their projects. So far, Coastal Tide Apartments is the only project to participate. The newly opened complex off Plantation Road near Lewes has 26 of its 168 units in the program. The demand was so great for affordable housing that a lottery was organized for potential tenants. The 26 apartments rent from $ 595 to $ 825 per month.
House prices soar in East Sussex
In March, the average selling price of a home in Sussex County was $ 340,000, which is due to the cost of homes in East Sussex.
Of the 3,600 homes listed for sale in May, 20% were priced at least $ 500,000 and 213 were listed for over $ 1 million. Thirty-three percent were listed for less than $ 300,000 and 13% were listed for less than $ 200,000.
A third of all new homes built since 2012 cost more than $ 400,000, which is beyond the reach of many working households, according to a report from LSA Planning, a housing consultancy company hired by Sussex County.
The average annual salary in the county is $ 41,000, which allows workers to pay a monthly rent of $ 1,000 and houses costing up to $ 284,000. Homeowners should not pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing to allow for other expenses.
Away from the resort area, there are new developments offering more affordable housing. For example, Captain’s Way, along Highway 16 between Milton and Ellendale, has new homes that sell for between $ 200,000 and $ 300,000.
According to a marketing analysis of the county’s housing needs, 44% of the county’s workforce – with two workers per household – can only afford homes under $ 250,000. Less than a quarter of homes on the market are listed below $ 250,000.
However, 31 percent of all workers in Sussex are employed in the accommodation, retail, service and food industries with an annual salary of around $ 20,000.
First working accommodation in Sussex
A new concept of workforce housing is planned for an 8.5 acre plot off Savannah Road in Lewes. Schell Brothers intends to build Dutchman’s Harvest, a 140-unit complex with selling prices ranging from $ 150,000 to $ 250,000. Additionally, if Diamond State Community Land Trust can secure financing and purchase units in the complex, some units will be sold based on income.
Housing is a local issue
Shyanne Miller, community organizer for the statewide Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equality and Stability (HOMES) campaign, said most housing issues occur at the local level.
“We have to move away from the idea that we cannot fix the problem,” she said. “We can demand action from County Council and Sussex City Councils. We all need to take action to mobilize advocacy for affordable housing.
She said of all elected officials, her Sussex County Council has the most impact on affordable housing.
Miller said residents can find three or four other interested people and start a dialogue with county council members. “Ask them exactly where affordable housing will be located in Sussex County. People should be able to live where they want and not be embarrassed because they are making a certain amount of money, ”she said. “We want a resolution from Sussex County on their position on affordable housing.”
She said personal contact and attendance at meetings is more important than writing letters. “We need to let them know that we want affordability to happen. The power resides in the communities.
Homeowners are burdened with costs
Housing officials say landlords / renters should not pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing to allow for other expenses.
Almost 30 percent of all Sussex households are burdened with costs, paying more than 30 percent of their annual salary for housing.
Almost 80 percent of those earning less than $ 20,000 a year and nearly 60 percent of those earning up to $ 35,000 a year are overcharged.
Almost half of all tenants are burdened with costs.
Those with an annual salary of less than $ 35,000 are likely to spend up to 50% of their income on housing.