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Sussex County Leaders Search for Solution for Rental Inaffordability

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SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. - Sussex County leaders are searching for a solution to the relentless problem of rental affordability, amid a new report, signaling a continuing gap between what people can afford to rent, and what is available. 

"You're going to need to live with your parents," said realtor Sharon Palmer-Stauffer. "Or you're going to need roommates." 

Palmer-Stauffer, a realtor for Coldwell Banker in Rehoboth Beach was referring to low-income workers, which she said makes up a large portion of county residents. She said many in the service or poultry industries have nowhere to turn, due to high rental prices. 

"Because of the low paying jobs," she said. "And the cost for land development and housing here, it’s just extremely difficult for the folks that are making minimum wage to find homes to live in.” 

In Delaware, the minimum wage is set at $8.25 per hour, but according to housing experts like Palmer-Stauffer, the state lacks adequate affordable housing for these low-income families. In late-July, the Delaware Housing Coalition released the "Who Can Afford To Live in Delaware," a study that examined this topic. This report found that one would need to earn approximately $20 per hour, in order to afford a two-bedroom home in Sussex County. Some of the data from that report is below: 

Sussex County: 
- Two Bedroom Housing Wage: $19.46 per hour
- Hours Per Week at Minimum Wage to Afford Two Bedroom: 94

Kent County: 
- Two Bedroom Housing Wage: $18.31 per hour
- Hours Per Week at Minimum Wage to Afford Two Bedroom: 89

New Castle County: 
- Two Bedroom Housing Wage: $23.27 per hour
- Hours Per Week at Minimum Wage to Afford Two Bedroom: 113

A look at Coldwell Banker's listings on Friday afternoon showed that the company was flush with seasonal rentals, but that it had just five year-round places available for rent. Those prices varied between $1,200 and $1,650, an amount well-above what's deemed acceptable for a low-income person to take on alone or even with a roommate.

Meanwhile real estate listings in this week's Cape Gazette showed similar results for other companies. Jack Lingo Realtor had nine year-round rentals in Lewes and Rehoboth, ranging from a $925 per month two-bedroom home to a $1,500 three-bedroom home. Ocean Atlantic had six homes listed, varying from a $1,000 per month two-bedroom to a $2,150 per month four-bedroom. 

Even in Western Sussex, the prices remain out of reach for many low-income families, according to Palmer-Stauffer. Realtor company Wilgus Associates listed various properties, including a three bedroom in Greenwood available for $850 per month and a three bedroom in Lincoln going for $895 per month. 

County Taking Action: 

In order to address this continious problem, county administrators are urging County Council to take action. Housing Coordinator Brandy Nauman said in her opinion, council should expand incentives to developers, in order to "spur affordable development." 

"Developers are interested in providing affordable housing," she said. "As long as there is a benefit to them. So we're trying to work with them to provide this housing at a rate that - you know - can benefit them and the tenants, and the residents in Sussex County."

Nauman said that these incentives do not need to mean higher costs for taxpayers. She said expanding the policy of allowing higher densities for affordable projects is one option the council should consider. Below are Nauman's main recommendations to council: 

Nauman Recommendations:

1) Reducing required affordable unit set-aside from 15%/40% to a flat rate of 12.5% of total units. 

2) Setting fixed rental rates for each bedroom size based on 50% of Area Medium Income. 

3) Must serve households making 80% Area Medium Income. 

Nauman said that her office is currently working on an amendment to the affordable housing ordinance, although no details have been finalized. She said it will likely be introduced this fall for council's consideration.

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