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Sussex County Habitat for Humanity prepares to receive $600,000 federal grant

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester visits a Habitat for Humanity Home in Milton, Delaware.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester visits a Habitat for Humanity Home in Milton, Delaware.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester visited a new Habitat for Humanity home in Milton Monday to offer an update on federal funding for new affordable housing construction in Delaware.

Habitat for Humanity is in line to receive a $600,000 grant to purchase lots and construct new single-family homes in Sussex County. The funding still needs Senate approval, but Blunt Rochester expects that to come in September or October.

Sussex County Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing construction is one of fifteen projects selected by Blunt Rochester’s office for community directed spending this year.

Sussex County Habitat for Humanity Director Kevin Gilmore says the grant is needed to offset rising prices for land and materials.

“We believe that this will help us add 15 houses to the inventory we’re building in Sussex County. And the timing is perfect," he said, "because the current land we have – the current inventory we have – will run out just around the time this funding will come into play.”

Gilmore also noted that the number of volunteers available for Habitat for Humanity construction projects has fallen in recent years, slowing timelines for new projects.

"It's a difference between a six-month build and a ten-month build, because you're only working two days a week with volunteers," he said. "It's also forced us to hire more paid labor to keep the houses moving as fast as we can."

Gilmore notes the construction of new homes in Milton was delayed for several years while his organization acquired more lots into the town — a strategy, he said, to fundraise and purchase materials more efficiently. The nonprofit acquired the lot visited by Blunt Rochester roughly a decade ago as a donation from the developer of a small neighborhood just outside of Milton's town limits. Though the lot is unusually large, Gilmore says it could not be easily subdivided to build additional homes, nor could the lot's septic system manage more than one home.

His organization also recently acquired nine lots in Milford. Sussex County Habitat for Humanity has been particularly active in Downtown Development Districts like Milford's, where state dollars are available to cover some construction costs.

Most of Sussex County Habitat for Humanity’s inventory is concentrated in Georgetown, Laurel and Seaford – a problem, says Blunt Rochester, given that many of the county’s jobs are closer to the beaches.

“To be able to expand housing development closer to jobs is one of the key goals here," she said.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.