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Coalition looks at state of housing in county

Dr. Monica Taylor

Dr. Monica Taylor

A three-part status report was presented last week (Jan, 24) regarding housing issues facing Delaware County residents. The report called for measures to address the homeless and increase opportunities for renters and homeowners.

The report was presented by the Delaware County Housing Coalition, in collaboration with The Foundation for Delaware County (TFDC). Presentation attendees included coalition members, elected officials, numerous community stakeholders and members of the public.

County Council Chair Dr. Monica Taylor opened the presentation and explained, “This Coalition developed three sub-groups: One for the unhoused community, one for affordable rental housing, and one focused on homeownership. Our goal has been to assess the state of housing in (the county) and to determine how this Coalition can use resources to help our residents live in a home that is safe, healthy, and affordable.” Sandra Garrison, the county’s chief of Social Services and Community Programs, said the need for stable housing and shelter was increasing, and that improved funding, staffing, and shelter would be necessary to address the issue of unhoused people. More than 300 individuals experienced homelessness in the previous year, with more than 100 families on waiting lists to get into shelters.

To achieve the Coalition’s vision of where homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring—and where residents live with dignity and respect in a home of their choosing—three immediate priorities were identified: increased housing/ rental capacity, increased outreach and coordination, and increased services to prevent residents from becoming unhoused.

Garrison said the Coalition was examining various ideas, including the possibility of acquiring used buildings (e.g., closed schools and hospitals) for temporary housing, exploring alternate housing ideas such as co-housing and tiny homes, creating one-stop intake and info centers in locations across the county, and improving engagement with landlords, increasing wraparound services, financial education, and eviction services.

Jordan Casey, of TFDC, reported that the county is home to 177,000 renters, or roughly one in three residents. Despite the county’s aging housing stock, rental prices are increasing and are higher than other counties in the state.

Casey noted that a two-bedroom apartment in the county now averages $1,470 per month, meaning a Delco resident would need to earn $58,800 to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market prices.

Three priorities to address affordable rental housing were presented: eviction diversion programs, education of tenants, landlords, and municipalities, and an increase in the housing supply.

“Currently, there is an average of 20 eviction filings per day,” said Casey. “We are advocating for evictions to be rare and occur only in the most unavoidable circumstances. The eviction diversion program we hope to institute, aims to keep families, seniors, and individuals in their homes, and to address the underlying issues that lead to the evictions.”

Philip Welsh, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, reported about obstacles facing residents in acquiring and maintaining home ownership and providing sensible and realistic initiatives to support home ownership through current and new stakeholder groups. In 2023, Delaware County had the second most foreclosures per housing unit in the state.

Three priorities addressing affordable homeownership were identified: homeowner stabilization, expansion of opportunities, and increased housing supply.

To address these priorities, the Coalition is considering: the expansion of the Whole Home Repair Program, the creation of mortgage foreclosure diversion programs, the examination of co-housing policies, increased publicity surrounding the Homestead Exemption Program, and working with municipalities to promote alternatives to single-family detached dwellings.

Other ideas included improved translation resources, outreach to faith-based groups, and creation of a listserv to facilitate resident education to better empower residents looking to purchase and maintain homes within the county.

Formed in early 2023 through the efforts of County Council, TFDC, and state Sen. Tim Kearney, the Coalition’s mission is to tackle issues of affordable housing and homelessness in the county through a broad partnership of agencies and organizations that has grown to include over 90 organizations in less than a year.

“This is not the end,” said Taylor of the assessments conveyed through the presentation. “This is a beginning.”

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