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New Castle County proposals seek to boost affordable housing availability

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer introduces affordable housing initiatives at the Claymont Library.
Rachel Sawicki
Delaware Public Media
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer introduces affordable housing initiatives at the Claymont Library.

New Castle County is proposing several new initiatives to address affordable housing and homelessness.

The county is looking at opportunities for accessory dwelling units, apartment conversions, tiny homes, and moderately priced units.

County Department of Land Use General Manager Charuni Patibanda says changing code requirements could make these initiatives more feasible, and potentially stimulate the creation of affordable housing units across the county.

“We not only want to have affordable housing projects be built, but we want to allow for affordable housing units to be built all over the county," Patibanda says. "And that could mean in people’s backyards, if could also mean taking a larger home and turning it into multiple units, all of these things will create affordability.”

Patibanda says there is a cap on how many permits can be issued for Accessory Dwelling Units, .4 percent of the total of single-family detached homes in unincorporated New Castle County, which they are looking to eliminate altogether and decrease the current 2-acre lot size requirement.

Opening the door to tiny homes is another initiative the Department of Land Use is pursing. The minimum size for a dwelling unit is 750 feet, but reducing that would diversify housing design opportunities and permit more compact development, and thus more open space opportunities.

Patibanda says that reducing the home size and minimum dwelling unit size for apartment conversions -- dividing larger homes into multiple units -- will help to repurpose the existing housing stock in New Castle County.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 10,400 rental units are needed to meet the demand for affordable housing in New Castle County. Currently, almost 44% of renter households in the county are moderately to severely cost-burdened, paying 30% or more of their income towards housing.

Executive Director of Housing Alliance Delaware Rachel Stucker says the county has a decent number of interim housing options, but not nearly enough to meet demand.

“It’s getting worse," Stucker says. "The number of people reaching out to us has been going up since January. Not everyone who calls us is already sleeping outside, most folks who call us are trying to avoid that. But it’s not getting better.”

Stucker says the process for building new units is time-consuming and costly, but a new pilot program called Housing Now would expedite plans for projects that go above and beyond what the code requires for affordable housing.

The county is also considering a larger density bonus as an incentive for applicants to include moderately priced dwelling units in development projects.

County Council will have to vote on code and policy changes to make these initiatives a reality.

Patibanda adds many of these policies rely on homeowners getting involved – large homes and backyards that are underutilized or seniors who want to age in place. But County Executive Matt Meyer says people want to get involved.

"This plan today originated from people in the community coming out to a broad range of community meetings over a year ago," Meyer says. "We want to continue to hear from you to how we can address a crisis of housing in our community.”

Meyer says they are seeking feedback from New Castle County residents through an affordable housing survey on the county's Land Use Department website. The survey asks for ways the county can improve equitable housing opportunities, expand access to homeownership, and the best way to connect housing with daily needs.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.
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