Seaford housing land trust plan could be model for rest of state

By Lynn R. Parks

A plan to provide affordable housing in the city of Seaford could serve as a model for the rest of the state. According to Marlena Gibson, secretary of the board of the Diamond State Community Land Trust, the plan being worked out between her organization and the city would be a first for Delaware. "We are very excited about this possibility," said Gibson. "Seaford could be a model for other communities throughout the state." A community land trust is a private, non-profit organization that acquires houses, rehabilitates them and resells them, retaining the ownership of the land. Because the cost of the house does not include the land on which it sits, buying the house costs less than buying a house with land. The sale of the house generally includes a 99-year lease for the land. The Diamond State Community Land Trust was incorporated in December and has the support of the Delaware State Housing Authority and the Delaware Housing Coalition.

According to Amy Walls, the city's economic development director, details about how the plan would work are still being worked out. She said that the city would acquire the property and would either rehabilitate the existing house or tear it down and build a new house. The city would sell the house for the same amount for which it built it and would turn over ownership of the land to the land trust. Proceeds from the sale of the house would be used to purchase the next property, and the process would start all over. Walls said that the city is talking with several funding sources for the plan. The fact that this would be a first in Delaware is attractive for banks and other funding sources, she said. "This is a brand new project, and they could get their name out there for supporting it. That is appealing," she said. The city "has a couple of sites in mind" with which to start the project, Walls said. "We are looking for something inexpensive, maybe with liens on it either from the city, the county or the IRS, just because the city wouldn't have to expend a lot of money to obtain them," she added. Whether construction would be done by city crews or contracted out would depend on the costs, Walls said. "We would like to do as much as possible in house, both to save money and to have good control over quality," she said. "We don't just want these houses to meet code; we want them to be above code." Neither Walls not Gibson could say when the plan will be finalized. "We would like to move as quickly as we can," Walls said.

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