Georgetown, Del., Oct. 18, 2022: Sussex County’s homing in on a more affordable housing market for southern Delaware.
County Council, at its Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, meeting, adopted an ordinance to overhaul and improve the Sussex County Rental Program ordinance, also known as the SCRP, first adopted in 2006 to stimulate the market in creating affordable rental housing in the area. Since its adoption, though, the program has been slow to yield results; County officials decided to rework existing County code with the hope it will jumpstart the construction of affordably priced rental units in what has been a hot housing market the past decade.
“Housing costs are top of mind for everyone these days, especially teachers, health care workers, and service staff from the hospitality industry,” Council President Michael H. Vincent said. “These are folks who want to live where they work, but often have to look miles away for something affordable. That has to change. We believe reworking our existing rental program is a good first step to helping people find their next home.”
The Rental program first adopted in 2007 and the updates adopted this week are intended to promote the creation of affordably priced workforce housing units within market-rate rental projects, using a variety of incentives such as expedited reviews and density bonuses, for instance. To date, though, only one SCRP project has been approved and constructed, in the Lewes area.
In response, Sussex County in 2019 commissioned a Housing Opportunities and Market Evaluation (HOME) study to seek recommendations on how to improve its existing programs and increase the inventory of affordable housing in the county. As part of this process, the County and its consultant sought input from a variety of housing stakeholders prior to drafting the legislation, which underwent more than a year of meetings, revisions, and public hearings.
“This is one of the many steps we are taking to tackle the issue of affordable housing,” said Sussex County Community Development & Housing Director Brandy Nauman, whose office oversees the rental program. “This combined with the new Housing Trust Fund are advancing our efforts to expand access to affordable housing opportunities across Sussex County.”
Among the most significant changes, the overhauled ordinance will:
- Create a streamlined, ‘by-right’ approval process for apartment projects that set aside at least 25 percent of the units as affordably priced, which would remain so in perpetuity within the Sussex County Rental Program;
- Increase the density calculus from 2 units per acre to 12 units per acre for the number of permitted units in apartment projects developed under the SCRP;
- Establish design criteria for all SCRP developments, including greater setbacks to offset the higher permitted density;
- Require SCRP developments in areas with central public sewer and water;
- Require SCRP developments to be located along roadways classified by the Delaware Department of Transportation as ‘principal arterial’, ‘minor arterial’ or ‘major collector’, to promote locations in proximity to employment centers and transit connectivity;
- Streamline the administrative aspects of approving SCRP tenants and monitoring compliance with the program, while clarifying penalties for non-compliance; and
- Limit qualifying projects to those locales identified in the County’s Comprehensive Plan as commercial areas, town centers, developing areas, or the coastal area.
The ordinance takes effect immediately, and will only apply to those projects built in the County’s jurisdiction of unincorporated Sussex County.
“This was a cooperative effort, from our County Council and Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as staff, to housing advocates, the development community, and most importantly the public,” County Administrator Todd F. Lawson said. “In the end, I believe we have made improvements to our code that are sensible, practical, and economically viable that will attract interest and go a long way to improving affordability options for the residents of Sussex County.”
For more information and to view the ordinance, visit sussexcountyde.gov/ordinances.