City of Seaford, Sussex County Habitat for Humanity join forces in application

By Lynn R. Parks

The city of Seaford has joined forces with Sussex County Habitat for Humanity in an effort to claim some of the money that the state received as part of a national settlement with J.P. Morgan Chase Mortgage.

Delaware is expected to get $20 million from the $13 billion settlement; $2.755 million of that has been designated by the General Assembly to go to the Delaware State Housing Authority.

As specified in the settlement, the housing authority is using the money to establish the Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund, for the acquisition, renovation and subsequent sale of dilapidated houses. The houses are to be in areas that are "challenged by blight or other forms of neighborhood distress, including high crime."

Both Seaford and Laurel are eligible to participate in the program. Applications for funding are due Jan. 2 and award winners will be announced Jan. 30. The minimum award is $500,000.

Kevin Gilmore, director of the Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, spoke to the city council last Tuesday night.

He said that as Habitat is already in the process of obtaining two dilapidated properties in Seaford (one on North Conwell Street, the other on Third Street), it is uniquely qualified to join with the city in filing the Strong Neighborhoods application. Habitat would use the money to improve at least five properties, Gilmore said. Vacant single-family homes would be either renovated or torn down and replaced. They would then be sold to people who qualify for Habitat programs. Qualifications include earning less than 60 percent of the area's median income (about $39,000 for a four-person family), being willing to put in "sweat equity" of 250 hours per adult in the family, and currently living in substandard conditions.

For its part, the city will help to promote the program and will help Habitat identify the houses to be addressed. The city has a list of 30 condemned properties; "that's a good starting point for us," Gilmore said.

The city will also consider, on a case-by-case basis, forgiving back taxes and offering reduced fees and permit costs.

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