Community Block Grant Program provides funding for home improvements

Milford City Council held a public hearing on Monday, November 8 to provide information about the Delaware Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The program operates with the cooperation of Sussex County Council, Kent County Levy Court, Delaware State Housing Authority and local municipalities to provide over $2 million in grants to low- and moderate-income property owners whose primary residences need repair.

“Some of the projects we have completed include housing rehabilitation, sewer and water hookups, demolition as well as infrastructure,” Brandy Nauman, Director of Sussex County Community Development, said. “All infrastructure projects must benefit low- to moderate-income households. For instance, in order for the funds to be used for street repair, 80 percent of the street must have a median income that meets the program thresholds. That is determined with a door-to-door survey.”

Nauman explained that the goal of the program is to maintain existing housing stock in a town and that the majority of projects are small repairs, including roofing, doors, windows, electrical upgrades or repairs and more. The home must be owner-occupied, and it must be the primary residence. The income threshold for a family of four in Sussex County is $60,100 while in Kent County it is $55,200. A lien is placed on the property for five or ten years, depending on the cost of the project. The liens are placed to prevent an owner from flipping a property using grant funds. As long as the property owner remains in their home, the lien is forgiven at the end of the five- or ten-year period.

“This year, the Sussex portion of Milford received $105,000 in funding for projects,” Mike Jones, Rehabilitation Program Coordinator for the program, said. “Over the past five years, we have provided $315,000 in funding in Milford, helping at least 15 households. We are hoping to fund four or five projects this year. We have ten people one the waiting list but we are always looking to add more. The program is successful in many ways. No one wants to have the ugly duckling house on the street. We come in and fix one house, so it looks better, then the house next door decides it does not want to be the ugly duckling, so they spend money to fix their home, helping to improve the neighborhood overall.”

Mike Miles, Kent County Levy Court Housing and Community Development Director explained that there are about 15 people on the waiting list in Kent County and some of these are people who have been assisted before.

“We try to take care of those who have not received assistance in the past before we go back to help those who have,” Miles said. “We applied for $80,000 in funding for some Milford projects, but they were not funded last year. Because we have more people on the waiting list this year, we are hoping our request will get approval for this year.”

Mayor Archie Campbell asked about people who had received funding applying for additional funding from the program.

“It happens quite frequently,” Miles said. “We provide assistance that puts a lien on the property. Once that lien is forgiven, they sometimes come back and ask for assistance. There have been instances where we have performed repairs or maintenance on a property and folks don’t take care of it, which may require additional help down the road.”

Councilwoman Katrina Wilson stated that families she is familiar with who have received funding from the program were only given a certain amount of funding that may not have covered everything that needed to be repaired.

“Their income has not changed, so when the lien is forgiven, they apply again to get the next project covered,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “Many of those who use this program are elderly and it is extremely helpful to them.”

Miles explained that each project is designed to bring a home up to the minimum building code standard. An older home may need lead remediation along with new roofing, windows or doors.

“We try to take care of as much as we can with the limits we have,” Miles said. “We are limited on what we can spend although DHSA has raised their thresholds this year. For stick-built homes, we can spend up to $40,000 while a mobile home is limited to $30,000.”

Councilwoman Wilson expressed support for the program. “I do know a lot of our residents benefit from this program,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “It is a wonderful program, especially for our seniors. Their income doesn’t change much year-to-year, so this program is very helpful to them.”

Council voted unanimously to approve two resolutions that would allow property owners to apply for the grants for the upcoming year. Anyone interested in applying for the grants can contact the Planning Office at 302-424-8396, Extension 1311.