Georgetown Town Council denies request for Homeless Shelter Rehab
posted Fri, Feb 10, 2012
On January 25, 2012, the Georgetown Town Council voted to override the Planning Commission’s January 18decision to approve Sussex Community Crisis Housing Services’ (SCCHS) request for a conditional use permit (CASE #2011-02). This application proposes to replace existing buildings on their property with new, well-designed, energy-efficient buildings to be built through the charitable donation of a local Georgetown family, constructed in conjunction with Milford Housing Development Corporation (MHDC) a respected, seasoned local housing developer.
While technically an expansion, the net result of the construction would be replacement. One newly constructed building would immediately replace the facility currently used as a shelter and the second would be used for transitional housing. The current transitional housing unit would be razed within a couple of years. The number of residents served would be virtually the same as now. The lots where the current shelter building stands would be sold for single family housing.
POOR DECISION WITH UNFORTUNATE CONSEQUENCES
By denying this application, the Town Council thereby prevented SCCHS from consolidating and improving its facilities to meet the same level of need as it now meets. The decision would also force SCCHS to continue to operate in a less efficient manner than it could with the modernized facilities, forcing the organization to choose between paying for upkeep to an aging physical plant and better uses of its meager funds, such as direct services to clients and staffing. Worst of all, if left to stand, this decision adds one more example to the tradition of reactive public decision-making that is content to take as its basis misinformation and denial of the facts about affordable housing needs and homelessness in our state.
While the 2010 Comprehensive Plan for Georgetown does discuss a concentration of special needs housing and some attendant problems, the purpose of a Comprehensive Plan is to serve as a guide for a jurisdiction, not as a set of ironclad rules. In addition, SCCHS should not be punished for the poor performance of other services nor absentee landlords who do not maintain their properties. While it is good that the Town will be collaborating with the Delaware State Housing Authority to perform a housing needs assessment, a study is not needed to know that if SCCHS’s program ceases to exist there will be no shelter open to families in Sussex County.
The decision this week by the Georgetown Town Council appears to be influenced by considerations other than fact. The SCCHS/MHDC application is a modest, reasonable request to improve the neighborhood while continuing to provide indispensable services in a competent and compassionate manner.
SUSSEX COMMUNITY CRISIS HOUSING SERVICES
SCCHS is a well-regarded organization. This broad-based estimation stems from SCCHS’s deep roots in Georgetown and long-term professional provision of vital services to families and individuals. It proactively works with other government and community organizations including the Georgetown Police Department and other service providers. There is a full-time staff person on site at all times and the facilities and program are monitored regularly by the Delaware State Housing Authority, Office of Community Services, and the Emergency Shelter Grant Program. SCCHS has a long history of serving the Georgetown community as a housing service provider and as a good neighbor. It maintains a strict code of conduct for all residents including a 9:00 PM curfew and stringently enforces its ban on alcohol and any illegal substances.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEEDS AND HOMELESSNESS IN SUSSEX COUNTY
The following data highlight housing issues in Sussex County and underscore the need for appropriate opportunities on every rung of the housing ladder from emergency shelter to fee simple home ownership.
· The Housing Wage—the amount of income needed in order not to spend more than thirty percent of one’s income on housing costs-- in Sussex County in 2011 is $14.42/hour—a 52% increase since 2000.*
· Earning minimum wage ($7.25/hour) one would have to work eighty hours/week fulltime year round in order to afford the Fair Market Rent (FMR)--a modest two bedroom apartment in Sussex.*
· At an average renter wage ($10.73/hour) one would have to work 54 hours/week to afford this same apartment.*
· The Fair Market Rent for a modest two bedroom apartment in Sussex is $750/month-- a 49% increase since 2000. *
· The gap between Fair Market and Affordable Rents in Sussex is -$286/month.*
· Among the Extremely Low Income (ELI = < 30% of Area Median Income or $18,540/ann) population in Sussex, there are 1,854 renters and 4,980 homeowners who are cost burdened—paying more than 30% of their income for housing costs.
· The poverty level for a family of four is $22,350/annum.*
· In January 2011 the HPC Point in Time study identified 100 homeless individuals in Sussex County among those: in designated shelters, unsheltered, in hotels/motels with and without vouchers.+
· The vast majority of jobs being created in Sussex County are in wholesale and retail trade and leisure and hospitality. The majority of these jobs do not pay a Housing Wage.
· In Sussex County, the number of units renting for less than$500/month declined from 5,038 in 2000 to 2,929 a net loss of 2,109 while units renting for more than $1,000/month increased from 412 to 4,803 or 1065.8%.