LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Inaccuracies, falsehoods regarding Dover’s Tiny Houses

This is in response to the letter regarding the Tiny House Village by Jim Miller Sunday July 17, 2016 (“Not so fast on Dover’s Tiny Houses”)

I will go through the inaccuracies in the letter to the editor from Sunday in the order as they appear. I will attempt to keep my feeling and opinions to myself but I am very happy to speak to anyone in person that feels they would like to discuss the facts and plans in more detail.

Plans for the house have been submitted to the county weeks ago, changes have been requested and these are being completed. The model house will not be used for occupancy; it is a model only, a float, a display so the need for a permit and what kind was always in question even for county officials. The county gave us a go-ahead to use the model home for display and promotion.

I guess sarcasm is lost on some people. The idea that we would plan a 100-house village on this piece of property is ludicrous. Our plans are for 15 houses. That is the only plan that we have. To say that we would not want to have many more Tiny Houses available to house more homeless people would certainly be an untruth. We continue to hope for additional sites, but that is not what we have going on. We have 3-5 possible acres to work with and hope to establish a community of 15 houses.

Mr. Miller comments that Pastor Aaron and I were rude and used profanity? I would love to know where this came from but I can assure everyone that the six people in that meeting (none of which was Jim Miller) did not hear or speak a single word of profanity or disrespect. Our exchanges challenged the ideas that were discussed and as professionals, differences were voiced.

We had a civil meeting that, although we did not agree, ended with nothing more than an exchange of cards and the knowledge that we would be having subsequent meetings. Although this has been a difficult process we have never expressed nor received anything but respectful dialogue with city and county officials.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to add that during our meeting at Legislative Hall with state representatives, two of the four opposing neighbors that crashed the meeting uninvited were asked to leave with threat of removal by capital police for misbehavior and profanity. This meeting was attended by Mr. Miller, but conveniently left out of his letter.

In addition, Mr. Miller suggests that the county offered to help us find property in an appropriate area. Again, with Mr. Miller not at that meeting I’m just not sure where he is getting this information but to be perfectly clear, I did ask if they had any suggestions of property that might be suitable, inside the growth zone as they were requiring.

It was suggested to me that I might have better chances with property within city limits that there was nothing available or suitable for us outside the growth zone in county area.

Anyone saying that any alternative sites, other than in general conversation, have been either suggested or offered and refused is absolutely a lie! We will continue to be open to any and all property that anyone out there is willing to offer. The need is great and a plan for more villages throughout the state is certainly what our goal is.

In any property development, there are always small details that must be addressed to enable the landowner to move forward to the next step in requesting permits etc. That is where we are with the church property and simple basic building violations.

Contrary to Mr. Miller’s letter, any violations that have come to light are being addressed, and the church is working to be in complete compliance so that subsequent steps can be taken.

Fire calls? They were false alarms!! Come on, really. Not that this needs a response, but they had a vent problem. All fixed now.

The ability to be a good neighbor goes both ways. Victory Church bought this property in 1990 and sold off lots around it leaving them with 5-plis acres. Everyone moving in around them knew they were moving next to a church, a business who is focused on gathering people together, worshiping in groups and playing music. If they are doing their job correctly, it is a business that one would expect cars to come and go from at any time.

It is a business that, as with most others, thrives on encouraging attendance and participation and in doing so regularly celebrates with BBQs and other community get togethers.

This is a 24/7 church that has ministry such as noon prayer, preparation of feeding the homeless on the street, devotional times etc. during the day and prayer and service in the evening. It would seem that car doors closing and talking should be expected, however, any movement in the parking lot from cars driving through at night to people taking pictures of the “No Tiny House” signs are reported to the police.

One of the recent police visits involved a neighbor and a church member who was taking a picture of the “No Tiny House” sign on their fence.

The neighbor came out to confront them. The entire altercation was caught on video and when the police arrived (again a neighbor made the call) and the police saw the video it was the church member that was asked if he wanted to file charges against the neighbor.

There has also been history of police calls because of neighbors physically fighting each other and kicking down fences, there is a neighbor whose fence encroaches upon another’s property by 25 feet, but that wasn’t mentioned in the letter.

Victory Church continues to allow the most vocal of the opposing neighbors the use of church property (driveway) to enable him to leave his back yard with his work vehicle, because he has land locked his back yard with additions to his house.

This is a privilege as a good neighbor that Victory Church has extended even to this day, even to the neighbor that is causing the most opposition. This didn’t seem to make the letter either. Every story has two sides.

Just to clarify, there will be rules in the village regarding loudness and misbehavior and they will be subject to suspension of village residency if these are not adhered to.

Mr. Miller questions my resources of information regarding the cost of homelessness. In a study by Philip Mangano, Homeless Policy Czar for President Bush in 2002, data was compiled from 65 cities looking at all of the services affected by homelessness. His data determined that the cost of keeping people in the streets added up to between $35,000 and $150,000 per person per year.

This was 13 years ago! In another study in the 2012 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, former Secretary Shaun Donovan reported that the average cost throughout the country was $40,000 per person per year for housing alone.

My very conservative estimate of $17,000 per person per year is a very low estimate.

This according to not only federal reports and studies but also in local studies created specifically for the state of Delaware. Please access the report by Delaware State Housing Authority entitled: Delaware’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness for details.

Mr. Miller seems to think that this is a money making venture. I’m happy to again clarify this inaccuracy. Residents of the Village will be asked to pay $200-$300 per month. The final amount will be determined once we know what our utilities and insurance fees will be.

These fees will be used to pay the utilities, insurance and maintenance on the village. The idea that we are in this to make money is just laughable. Anyone working to house, feed and assist the homeless, especially if they aren’t receiving federal money is not making any money!! Good Grief!!!!

Each and every day Pastor Aaron and his wonderful group of Victory Church volunteers hit the streets taking food, drink, snacks, clothes and love to the streets of Dover entirely funded through their own pockets. They feed an average of 40 people each time they go out. There are no resources to purchase these supplies other than the goodness of their congregation, other citizens that have stepped forward to help and from their very own pockets.

It is true that the residents will be asked to pay a rental fee. I am often asked; how will these people be able to afford this fee? It is our experience that most people upon receiving an address then qualify for additional consideration for services and assistance.

These sources of income could be from SSI, Disability, VA benefits and state assistance. There are also quite a few of these folks that have jobs that would provide the needed income and if there is someone that falls outside of those categories, something can be worked out. I’m not even sure how to react to the ridiculous comment regarding some of these sources of income being tax dollars.

I’d like to remind Mr. Miller that SSI, Disability (in most cases) and VA benefits are not entitlements. They are earned by those who receive them. If someone is receiving tax-dollar-generated entitlements through state assistance it would be somewhere in the range of $100 per month in cash assistance plus 190 possibly for food stamps.

The Tiny House can help to make someone at the absolute bottom of the poverty rung able to also be self sufficient and provide (for the most part) for themselves. Is that really something you are against? Can you really compare saving tens of thousands of dollars spent wastefully on someone just cycling endlessly through a broken system, to a couple hundred dollars to house them and get them out of the system.

Yes, there are many groups in this area that are formed to assist the homeless and they do the best they can with what they are tasked with, however, most programs are federally/state funded and therefore mandated and handcuffed with regulations which handicap them in the amount of time and attention they can provide each person that comes to them. Those that are not bound by federal dollars and regulations are strapped financially and can do very little to make a dent.

The availability of affordable housing is what our problem is. It is not necessarily that some people cannot maintain a home it is that there is nothing available that they can afford. It is as simple as that for some of these folks.

The availability of affordable housing in Kent County is appalling. The hope is that in providing a more permanent supportive residence to some that are the most expensive and chronically in the system, we can lighten the load for the other shelters to provide the more intensive assistance that is needed for some.

We all work towards the same goal; to provide homes for the homeless and assistance to those that need a hand up. I am especially sorry that you have found that other organizations are not aware of us, all the more reason for last week’s campout for awareness.

We formed Port Hope Delaware in February; we met with Victory Church in May and joined forces at that time. We have done our best in the past few months to inform as many people as we can about us and our plans. We have joined state committees and organizations to be informed and inform others about us.

We will continue to raise awareness and build our community support. We encourage anyone interested in contributing to homelessness in Kent County to please do so to whatever organization you feel comfortable with. We will work to build our credibility with time and through doing what we say we are going to do and being honest and trustworthy in our cause.

I appreciate that Mr. Miller found us nice to talk to. We do hope to be thought of in a positive light. I do however, feel it is important for everyone to understand that Mr. Miller’s assumption that we are not bothering with building permits and zoning applications are incorrect. We have submitted architectural drawings for our building plans, we are making changes and will resubmit those plans this week.

These plans are for the actual Tiny Houses and do not affect the use of our model home. Upon approval of these plans we will begin the process of the site application. We have not submitted any application for zoning because we are still working through the building permit steps.

Again, simple fact, we are working with the county, we have submitted plans that were returned with changes that we are completing and that is where we are, properly working within the system as required. I don’t understand how and why Mr. Miller would assume that he knows all these details that he put in his letter but I am happy to have had the opportunity to offer some truth and clarity.

Sue Harris
Port Hope Delaware

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