At recent city council meetings, there has been significant discussion about homelessness and panhandling in areas of the city. Council members are receiving complaints from businesses downtown about the many homeless in downtown areas, some of whom are impacting foot traffic in the area. Around the highway shopping centers, there are several homeless people who are panhandling, creating a dangerous situation for both motorists and the panhandler. At a recent Milford Conversation, Martha Gery of the Milford Advocacy of the Homeless and David Moore of Milford Housing Development Corporation provided insight into why the homeless population seems to be growing.
“Approximately one-third to one-half of the homeless population are employed,” Gery said. “Many of them are making minimum wage and they can afford, at tops, $600 a month. In Milford, they just can’t do that. People who are on low income simply cannot afford to live here.”
Currently, there are over 4,000 housing units proposed for the Milford area over the next few years. Many of these are single family homes and condos that will be for sale, not available for rent. A quick review of Realtor.com found that even some of the apartment complexes whose rents are based on income have an average cost of $600 to $610 per month. However, those apartment complexes have very long waiting lists. Non-subsidized apartment rents in Milford are significantly higher.
An apartment in Silver Hill Apartments is $950, in Parson Thorne it ranges from $885 to $980 and rents in the Lakeview Apartments are $1,100 per month. Townhouses in Valley Run range from $999 to $1,259 and in Brookstone are $1,950. A condominium in Hearthstone Manor rents for $1,650 while condos in Windward on the River range from $1,242 to $1,756. Moore explained that affordable housing was in extremely short supply overall on the Eastern Shore, not just in Milford and that the “not-in-my-backyard” attitude was part of the problem.
“We have a complex in a town in Maryland, a small one, maybe 30 units, that is subsidized,” Moore said. “We’ve owned and managed it for many years. There was a piece of land next to it that we purchased hoping to expand the complex, putting another 18 to 20 units there. One of the council people called me and said senior housing would be okay, but they did not want families. There is a big need for affordable senior housing, but this council didn’t want families because they equate to crime and that there would be more problems. My comment to him was that they don’t want to hurt you. They just want a place to live. In that complex, I have had one police all in five years. It was domestic, but that happens everywhere, even in influential neighborhoods.”
Moore explained that a lot of the homeless people seen today are the people who make sandwiches, the people who serve coffee, not necessarily people who do not want to work. They simply cannot afford housing in the area. Gery stated that some of those who panhandle do it for immediate cash. She pointed out it could be a woman who has a monthly need but has no money for supplies. Gery admitted that some of those who are homeless have mental health issues or may be dealing with a drug or alcohol problem, but that many simply found themselves in a situation where they no longer had a home. Moore stated that some of the issues were changes in government funding for subsidized housing as well.
“In the early days, when I first got involved in affordable housing, there was a lot of subsidy money for rental units out there,” Moore said. “Not only me as a non-profit could access some, but for profit developers could, too. They could build an apartment complex that might look like one of my senior complexes, but they got the subsidy because they went through USDA or one of the HUD programs at the time. Rents were set up so they were no more than 30 percent of that person’s income could go for rent and utilities. The last project like that I did was in 2003.”
According to Moore, when you build a new complex, you have to use tax credits. In Delaware, there is only two or three awards each year for these credits, whether it is rehabilitation of a current property or construction of a new property. The credits only subsidize financing which means Moore’s non-profit must compete with big developers. The market rates are also very high for developers leading to higher housing costs.
Another issue many face when they do move into a subsidized housing unit is that income-based rents can fluctuate significantly. Moore acknowledged that he has seen someone with no income move into a subsidized rental unit with rents around $100 a month. They become employed and their rent jumps from $100 a month to $400 a month with very little time to adjust their budget to manage that additional $300 a month. Not only could this push that renter back into homelessness, it also encourages them not to seek employment.
“Milford continues to grow economically,” Gery said. “I’ve heard people call it new Milford and old Milford. I am meeting people coming to this area with influential money and you have to have a conversation about the have-and-have-nots. I think it is more about making sure everyone has an equal opportunity for housing no matter what your income is.”
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