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Habitat for Humanity branches and UD release study on Delaware's housing repair needs

A Habitat for Humanity poster outside a home near Dover to which Habitat for Humanity of Central Delaware added a mobility ramp.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Habitat for Humanity of Central Delaware added a mobility ramp to a home in Rodney Village near Dover - an early project in a larger effort to ramp up housing repair as part of a strategy to preserve and expand affordable housing options.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Delaware for Delaware's three Habitat for Humanity branches underscored the role of housing repair in addressing the state's escalating affordable housing shortage.

The research team’s statewide survey reached an estimate of 25,000 owner-occupied homes in need of repair. Of those, roughly 5,000 could be considered substandard, meaning they are in severe need of repairs and could risk becoming uninhabitable. The types of repairs needed range from mold remediation to rebuilding foundations; in New Castle County, many of the homes in need of repair are found in older Wilmington neighborhoods, while in Kent and Sussex County, repair needs are greatest in manufactured home communities.

The researchers note that deferring maintenance on homes until they become uninhabitable only deepens the state's affordable housing crisis, potentially leaving low-income homeowners – many of them seniors – homeless.

Research lead and UD Biden School of Public Policy and Administration associate professor Steve Metraux says essential repairs for those homes could cost nearly $100 million – an exponentially larger figure than the amount of funding currently available in Delaware to support housing repair.

“The gap between need and resources is really wide, and I think that’s the story - more so than the actual numbers," he said. "When you start factoring in infrastructure costs, that number goes higher.”

Those infrastructure costs could include improvements to septic or sewer systems — a need that is especially dire in rural manufactured home communities.

The research team also noted that organizations offering repair services would need to navigate relationships with local governments, including meeting historical preservation standards while conducting repairs, and recruit translators and trusted messengers to conduct outreach in Latino communities, which face unusually high barriers to accessing home repair services.

New Castle County Habitat Director Kevin Smith adds that the study didn’t address the repairs needed in Delaware’s rental stock – another tool to mitigate the housing shortage.

“We are short 18,000 units of affordable housing, and there are people who are living in rental places that are either not affordable or not quality," he said.

Smith says Philadelphia recently appropriated $45 million for repairs to both owner-occupied and rental housing – a precedent he thinks Delaware could follow.

Next year, Delaware’s three Habitat for Humanity branches plan to increase collaboration, including a scaled-up campaign to provide repairs to low-income homeowners.

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