Affordable housing (or the lack thereof), was a topic of discussion at the Feb. 10 Sussex County Council meeting.
A letter submitted to the council by Howard Gorrell was read into the record by County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr.
Gorrell wrote that he has been homeless since September and, while waiting for an apartment to become available, has stayed in Airbnb-rented properties throughout Europe and the East Coast.
“The highest monthly rent of the subsidized apartment of Harbour Towne is $645, and the lowest rent of the non-subsidized apartment of Carillon Woods is $995. Where could we find an apartment for between $650 and $975?” he wrote.
Gorrell provided council with an “investigation report” calling out communities including Carillon Woods for increasing monthly rates by, according to him, more than 24 percent since it opened.
“Back to December 13, 2017, your council had a workshop on the lack of affordable housing. The Delaware State Housing Authority told you that the fair market rent (FMR) for a one-bedroom unit would be $730 monthly,” he wrote in the report, adding, “other sources show higher FMR as high as $992, but your Council shall follow the Delaware State Housing Authority’s decision.”
Gorrell requested the council instruct the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission to not consider “any proposal on building an apartment complex unless the developer would guarantee in matching with the fair market rent. However, your Commission could consider any luxury proposal only if the developer would mention ‘Luxury.’”
Activist Jim Martin of God Goes Digital also spoke on the need for affordable housing in Sussex County.
“I am here to ask the council to do a big thing. I am asking you to change the zoning regulations to allow for tiny homes,” he said. “Can you create a pathway in our zoning for the construction of affordable, tiny houses or micro-apartments for our working poor? For our working homeless?”
Martin said the lack of affordable housing in the county has caused an increase in the number of homeless individuals and families.
“Housing has become inaccessible to the working poor, to the unbanked — these are folks that don’t have banks or credit cards, and their credit ratings are poor.”
He added that there are lengthy waiting lists of six months or more for people to get into affordable housing.
“The closest town to us with low-income housing that is available with no waiting list is in Seaford. And there’s only one opening. There are five complexes in Sussex County, with only one opening.”
Kristen Homan also urged council to actively peruse “affordable housing with attainable solutions.”
“Be the leasers, think outside the box and challenge yourselves and listen to the voters and residents,” she said. “Tiny homes or micro-housing… Please, lose the image of a tiny cabin on the back of Jim Weller’s trailers, or forget HGTV or social media with the ‘minimal living’ push,” she said.
“Alternative housing solutions would be an immediate step for transitioning folks from shelters into a safe and stable community. I must add, government shekels make government shackles. However, generosity of spirit, patience, grace and collaboration with industrious creativity, local talent applying intelligent and thoughtful solutions in zoning and planning can change the course of this housing crisis.”
She asked the council to consider their legacy to Sussex County.
By Maria Counts