Commentary: Fair housing no longer exists in Sussex

Jim Martin

Please help me spread the word about the current housing crisis and the lack of fair housing opportunities for the working poor in Sussex County!

I am seeing how those who are earning less than $21 an hour are being pushed out of Sussex County because of steadily increasing housing costs month after month as their transportation costs also increase.

Extremely high housing prices now could mean that low density, Single Family Home type zoning is a clearer and clearer form of housing discrimination. Let’s be real and now say that “Fair Housing” no longer even exists in many areas of Sussex County. I predict the roofless and homeless situation will continue to escalate year after year and will soon become a terrible chaos unless “higher density” changes are made in both building codes and zoning ordinances in Sussex County.

We all know that affordable housing is no longer affordable anymore. The wait-listed and the unbanked or under-banked are being left behind with no hope for housing on their own. The push-out of the working poor is underway and has been for a while.

Clinicians and health professionals and community planners also need to understand how terrible the housing/homelessness crisis is getting right now as winter approaches and thousands in the county have no where to sleep.

For 11 years straight now I have been helping the homeless face to face in Delaware. The suffering I am seeing is more disturbing than ever. There are thousands in Sussex County who are living in their cars because the working poor can’t buy both a house and a car, so they buy a car so they can get to work. I think we have over 10,000 who are homeless in Sussex County.

If you make $21 an hour or less, you basically get to live in your car. If you make less than 12 an hour, you can’t afford a car or a home, so you sleep wherever you can find a spot. I am seeing what sleep deprivation looks like day after day. We are in a full blown housing and homelessness crisis!!

I unveiled a my new Housing Crisis Chart a few months ago at a Sussex County Council meeting that explains the Sussex County Housing Crisis in bright colors, detailed explanations and current data. I also spoke for 3 minutes under Public Comments. If you want a copy, please send me your email address at jim-mymartin767@gmail.com

It becomes clear from this Chart that 45,856 Sussex Countians are feeling the Sussex County housing crisis right now.

Here are the numbers backed up by sourced data, as well as, calculated data:

•1,146 are The Chronic Homeless

• 3,439 are the Job Seeking Homeless

•11,464 are the Wait-listed Homeless and

•29,807 are precariously housed being “one-bad argument away” from being homeless.

In Sussex County, with the current shortage of over 17,000 rental units in Delaware and 70% of extremely low-income households severely cost burdened; we can agree that the severity and prevalence of “cost burdened renter” and “wait-listed” families constitutes a crisis. These families move around, live in cars, on someone’s couch, live in motels and transitional housing, and lack the basic stability needed to build a life foundation and move into a higher Stability Index or higher Housing Zones. Likewise, the “paycheck to paycheck” renters, are at constant risk of eviction and moving to the Homeless Zones.

Two scenarios that may come to mind when discussing “Affordable Housing” are “The “American Dreamer” (renter who wants to buy but can’t) and the “Frustrated Homeowner” (homeowner that wants a nicer home or home in better location and can’t afford it)

While all of the Zones below are inter-related, and in theory, addressing the top can “filter” down to fixing issues at the bottom, it is important to distinguish and prioritize initiatives after first acknowledging the differences between a challenge and a crisis, and to make that distinction in clear statistical terms.

These are important questions for discussion about fair housing and affordable housing in Sussex County.

What percentage of each Zone is severely burdened?

What is the lowest standard of living associated with each Zone?

Which Zones contain families that are experiencing a crisis? How should limited funds and resources be allocated accordingly?

Wellness begins with WE.

Jim Martin is director of the Shepherd’s Office at 408 N. Bedford St. Georgetown. Find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/helpinghomeless.

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