[caption id="attachment_219189" align="aligncenter" width="1138"] Fifteen units at Coastal Tide Apartments are the first developed under a new Sussex County program to incentivize affordable housing aimed at workers. | PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSSEX COUNTY[/caption]
LEWES – Sussex County Community Development Director Brandy Nauman has been involved in the effort to encourage developers to include affordable housing in their projects for more than a decade. With the opening last month of Coastal Tide Apartments near Five Points, she hopes the county is on its way to getting more affordable housing at or near the beach.Coastal Tides is the first complex to open under the Sussex County Rental Program (SCRP) incentive plan, which aims to trade density allowances to developers who include a certain percentage of affordable housing within their plans. The company instituted a lottery for the homes and has already placed 15 of the 26 applicants in their new apartments. Under the agreement, the homes will have to remain at affordable housing rates for at least 30 years. Monthly rent in cases like these ranges from a little more than $500 per month for a single-bedroom apartment to about $800 for a three-bedroom, based on income availability and a host of other factors. It took a longer amount of time to get the deal done, but now that this first partnership is up and running Nauman has even higher hopes for the future. As coastal property gets gobbled up and redeveloped, living near the area’s resorts has gotten prohibitively expensive for workers. Add to that increasing competition from employers, and you can see why the county feels it is in its best interest to encourage enough affordable housing to support its workforce. The SCRP solutionWhat makes the SCRP attractive is that it incentivizes without cash. Developers don’t get a tax break and the county doesn’t pitch in for direct costs in any way. Instead, the program focuses on finding very specific properties that it feels can qualify for this density incentive.“Density” can be a loaded word, especially near the beach. It smacks of multi-family housing that can raise concerns about traffic and schools. In some areas, zoning might discourage if not outright disallow this kind of development. Done right, though, higher density developments can be profitable for developers and the community alike. Getting a property rezoned so that it can be used for higher density projects is an expansive and dicey process, given that there is never a guarantee of planning commission approval. There are no guarantees that a planning board will allow the changes, and even when they do the process can be an extended affair. Participating with the SCRP when appropriate avoids much of the approval process and streamlines the rest. The time and effort savings to developers can be a real incentive.“Multifamily housing doesn’t make sense everywhere,” Nauman said, “but where it does is where we think we can make a difference.”Nauman was clear that this wasn’t a loophole for increased density. Proposed properties must meet pretty extensive criteria, such as access to a DART bus route and being in one of the county’s designated development areas, among others.What it is, she said, is an opportunity for the county and developers to think of the long-term effects increased housing prices will have on the workforce and quality of life in the area. A long time comingThere are two interlocking reasons it took more than a decade to get the first participant through the process. The first was that the plan was made in 2008 at the height of the housing boom. Development interest in the region is just now starting to recapture that enthusiasm. The second reason is that the construction project itself was beleaguered. There was an environmental issue that required correcting. That in itself set the project back years as developers tried to “remediate the brownfield,” or clean up the ground pollution in the area. After the property changed hands in 2017, the deal with the county remained intact. That was one of the several important lessons Nauman said she and her colleagues learned in putting this project together. If the zoning changes were granted without attaching the affordable housing requirement to the deed, the new owners might have decided not to participate. As it turned out, it didn’t matter because of the partnership the county developed with Your Place rental company, which will run the complex.The right partnershipWorking with Linda Smith from Your Place, Nauman said she was able to get a good perspective on the kinds of things that appeal to developers, so as the county looks to form new partnerships it can be a more engaged participant. “We kind of had to wipe the dust off things [when the new owners came on board], and Linda was great to work with,” Nauman said. “I hope we evolved this program in a way that incentivizes other developers to participate.”Taking what they’ve learned, Nauman and her colleagues have recently pitched new standards to the county council based on what they learned during this process.For example, while the county was happy with the allocation of housing in the Coastal Tide project, Nauman said they hope to tweak the percentage to get more affordable housing built into the agreement. “I wish that we had more than 26 units, but it’s a great start,” she said. The 26 units represent 15% of the total number built. Nauman said she would like to see something closer to 30% for future projects.By Tony RussoContributing Writer
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