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New Castle County families receive rental subsidies and hope for homeownership

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Larry Nagengast
/
Delaware Public Media

Roughly sixty families received housing choice vouchers in New Castle County Thursday after joining a waiting list last year. County officials see the program as a way to help lift residents out of poverty. 

The housing choice voucher program, formerly known as Section 8,  subsidizes rent for very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled with federal money administered by local housing authorities— like New Castle County. The program allows participants to choose their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments outside of subsidized housing projects, so long as it meets requirements. 

After losing her job last year, Jalana Dorsey moved her family of five in with her sister in Wilmington. Dorsey, who now works in home healthcare, attended an orientation and received a housing choice voucher Thursday. She hopes to move back to New Castle so her children can attend Colonial School District. 

 “I think this [voucher] is really going to help financially, just trying to get back on my feet and become independent like I was last year,” she said. 

Dorsey hopes to eventually participate in the housing choice voucher homeownership program. “I don’t want to rent for the rest of my life,” she said. “Where I was living in New Castle on [Route] 273, rent was like $1,200 for a two-bedroom. And it was just like, why do I keep putting out this money every single month? I’m not going nowhere with it.”

At Thursday’s orientation, County Executive Matt Meyer touted the homeownership program, where after one year of renting with a housing choice voucher, participants who obtain mortgage financing can apply voucher payments to a mortgage rather than rent for up to 15 years. 

“We’re doing a very good job of saying, OK, let's make sure they can get affordable, financially sustainable, quality housing for now— then let’s council them, work with them, see what’s needed so that they can own a home,” said Meyer. “That is absolutely critical if you look at what brings people out of poverty long term. It almost always is having a long-term appreciating asset. And for 98 percent of people, that is a home. ”

‘We’ve seen people come from homelessness that have come to buy a house,” said Carrie Casey of New Castle County’s Community Development and Housing Division. “That’s the thing that we try to highlight the most, is the fact that people have taken this vehicle of the voucher and really taken it to heights that they never thought they could get to.”

Roughly fifty housing choice voucher clients in the county have purchased homes through the program, according to officials. 

But Casey says 30 to 40 percent of program clients still struggle to find rental housing, “because of the fact that the housing stock is so limited and a lot of folks have those barriers that keep them from being able to attain housing— because the landlord can be selective in who they pick.”

The county is working to expand the list of landlords that accept housing choice vouchers into a broader range of geographic areas. 

“We’re talking areas in Newark, some areas in Hockessin, because we want to provide a real choice for our clients to get themselves into that upward census tract, better schools, parks,” said Casey. “That’s where our attention is going, is to try to recruit landlords outside of those areas where we see a concentration of our voucher holders.”

Casey says the program is ultimately not able to meet the need in New Castle County. 

The county opened its Housing Choice Voucher program waiting list for the first time in four years last December. With the application online for the first time, the program received 7,800 applicants. Only 500 were randomly selected to be on the waiting list. 

Casey says in moving applicants off the waiting list, the county gives preferential treatment to those who are currently homeless, living in overcrowded housing, veterans, those with disabilities, those who work at least 25 hours a week, and those living in New Castle County. 

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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