would be encouraged and at some time in the future possibly
required to set aside at least a fifth of new housing units for
buyers with moderate or low incomes under a proposed county
A draft of the measure, prepared
by the Department of Land Use for introduction soon by
Councilman Penrose Hollins, was made public amid a spate of
activity directed at implementing some of the key provisions of
the county's recently adopted comprehensive development plan.
That followed Council approval,
by unanimous vote, of a resolution sponsored by Hollins to
"approve the establishment of the New Castle County Housing
Trust Fund for the purpose of dedicating public funds and
revenues from other sources to address the housing needs of
very-low-income households earning lass than 50% of median
income, low-income households earning 50% to 80% of median
income and moderate-income households earning 80% to 120% of
Preamble of the proposed
'affordable housing' legislation said median annual income in
the county in 2006 was $72,100, according to the plan.
'Affordable housing' also is
referred to as 'workforce housing' or 'inclusionary housing'.
Also, on Oct. 10 Councilwoman
Stephanie McClellan convened a meeting of a committee charged
with crafting 'smart growth' legislation and told members it was
their task to come up with recommendation to change the landmark
Unified Development Code, which is said to have fostered
'suburban sprawl' to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of
The proposed 'affordable housing'
ordinance sets forth a process which initially would be
voluntary but would automatically become mandatory if at least
300 such units are not in the development-approval process by
the end of 2008 and each of four subsequent years.
The law would apply to any
development in the unincorporated area of the county of 10 or
more residential units, whether new or replacements for existing
housing. It would prohibit phasing larger projects to come in
under that number.
return for agreeing to set aside at least a fifth of the
units for moderate-income buyers with at least half of those
priced within a range that low-income households could afford,
developers would be allowed double the housing density provided
for in the code. They would get a 50% density bonus if fewer
than half of the 'affordable' units were made available to
A variety of other development
incentives -- such as requiring less landscaping or open space
and more lenient setback and parking requirements -- would be
provided. Projects containing 'affordable housing' would receive
"expedited and streamlined consideration" of applications for
rezoning, plan approval and required code variances.
A developer could, in effect, buy
out of the program by contributing to the housing trust fund a
per-dwelling amount determined by a formula based upon the
difference in the costs of constructing market-priced and
'affordable' housing, plus 10% to cover administration costs.
Alternatively, the requirement
could be waived if the Planning Board determines "that
development of the 'affordable' units on-site would not be in
the best interest of the county or 'affordable households' or
that an alternate means of compliance ... would further
'affordable housing' opportunities in the county."
In addition, all developers would
be required to make a "financial contribution" of $1,000 per
unit to the housing trust fund.
Money from the trust fund would
be used to subsidize construction, acquisition and-or
maintenance of "permanently affordable units" and to finance and
administer programs related to promoting 'affordable housing'.
Once built, the 'affordable'
units would carry deed restrictions intended to keep subsequent
resales 'affordable' for up to 30 years.
The proposed ordinance defines
'affordable housing' as costing no more than 30% of gross
household income at or below 120% of median income in the county
as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban
Hollins launched the 'affordable
housing' effort by advocating passage of the resolution
supporting -- but not actually bringing about --
establishment of the trust fund at a finance committee hearing
before Council's plenary session on Oct. 9.
Responding to a letter from
Beverly Baxter, executive director of the Committee of 100, a
development trade organization, questioning county government's
ability to administer such a fund, Hollins said that the
Department of Community Services and its predecessors have
functioned as a housing authority for the past 40 years.
"We are the largest issuer of
Section 8 [housing subsidy] vouchers in Delaware [and] one of
the first housing authorities in the country to provide a
program to go from Secton 8 [rentals] to home ownership," he
Anticipating likely controversy
over the entire concept of 'affordable housing', he said
objectors are "looking at [it] was a way of showing their racial
After Council president Paul
Clark said he had hoped "we could have this discussion without
playing to race," Hollins, who is black, replied, "Quite
honesty, this is America and it hppens."
Although he ended up with the
support of all 12 of his Council colleagues when the resolution
came to a vote, some raised objections during the committee
William Tansey said he was
personally involved several years ago with a short-lived county
housing authority. "I was there at its inception and I was there
at its demise," he said, adding without being specific that
politics caused its death.
George Smiley said he supported
the resolution, but "we need a big turnaround in New Castle
County finances before I can support [financing] the program."
Clark objected to a "piecemeal
approach" to 'affordable housing' saying that he would prefer to
see a "holistic" package of legislation rather than individual
measures. On the other hand, he said, "We all would like to see
people in good housing [but] I'm not sure we can get there all
John Cartier said he hoped that
members of Council would look upon both the resolution and the
soon-to-come ordinance as "an opportunity to do good -- to let
some people get a shot at the American dream."
McClellan's committee focused on
a recommendation from a consultant hired by the Department of
Land Use which came up a draft ordinance. David Culver, of the
Department, said that is being tailored to New Castle County and
will be presented to the committee as a starting point for
coming up with a draft ordinance to replace the section of the
Unified Development Code dealing with 'hamlets' and 'villages'.
The concept, he said, is to go
back to the past and come up with mixed-use 'walkable'
residential communities. He said the planned Renaissance Village
in Claymont is an example. The area along and around Bancroft
Parkway in Wilmington is another.
The development code, he said,
provides rigidly-defined zoning districts while current thinking
leans more toward mixing residential, commercial and office
uses. "It's time to go back to the way things were developed in
the past," he said.
"This is our opportunity to build
a better place," he added, citing the Barley Mill Plaza, the
Chrysler plant and, possibly, the General Motors plant as
possible sites for 'smart growth' redevelopment.
Victor Singer, a member of the
committee who also chairs the Planning Board, cautioned against
advocating change that might prove to be too sweeping. "Fix
what's wrong; don't eliminate what is right," he said.
Mary Ann Cinaglia, of the Council
of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, said. the emphasis
should not be entirely on uses and kinds of building. "When you
consider buildings you also have to consider the people who are
going to live and work there," she said.