Ocean City Today

Diakonia looking to expand affordable housing in county

Zoning amendment paves way for local organization to build on Route 611 land
By Brian Gilliland | Jun 29, 2017
Photo by: Josh Davis

(June 30, 2017) While the major hurdle to clear was last week’s passage of an amendment allowing certain kinds of housing into the C-2 Commercial district — a process that took more than a year — northern Worcester’s only homeless and temporary housing shelter can focus on bringing its expansion to life.

Diakonia offers emergency and transitional housing, food services and both counseling and assistance to its guests to enable them to move into their own dwellings. The increasing problem is space. As board President Allyson Bernard-Church told the county commissioners last week, and Director Claudia Nagle reiterated during this interview, the organization is turning away 200 calls for aid each month.

“The idea came from the fact that there’s a gap in available housing for people that is also close to work,” Nagle said. “Affordable housing is within our mission.”

Diakonia is a 501(c)3 non-denominational organization that started as a branch of the Mennonite church in 1972. It can hold between 35 and 45 people per night in two buildings off Old Bridge Road in West Ocean City.

The organization purchased a lot across from the Green Turtle West and adjacent to the Decatur Diner on Route 611 in 2014 to facilitate an expansion.

“It’s an area where the buses run, so it’s a good location,” Nagle said. “Public transportation gets harder as you get out into the county.”

The details for the site haven’t been worked out yet, Nagle said, but what does exist are broad concepts that will go into making those plans.

What’s not going in is just another Diakonia — the plans for the new site replicate some of the services provided by the nonprofit, but not all, Nagle said.

“It’ll expand the continuum of services we offer for individuals and families,” she said.

There will be multipurpose space and meeting rooms associated with the project, and about 50 affordable housing units.

Rent on the units is based on income, Nagle said.

“We know the need, but we needed to decide how to offer something they can afford,” she said.

The parcel will also act as a new home for Diakonia’s thrift shop, Used to be Mine. The shop, now located near the intersection of Stephen Decatur Highway and Sunset Ave., was opened in 2009. Nagle said she hopes to install a sorting station and drop-off point for the store at its new home, but said this was likely several years down the road.

“Diakonia has been a part of this area for 40 years. People know us, and know our reputation. The people we serve are no different than the people in Ocean City, but they might have less money,” Nagle said. “We’re happy about the level of community support we get, and we’ll continue to work to reinforce the good neighbor impression we already have.”

Once the 45-day waiting period on the amendment expires, Nagle said she expects to begin clearing the lot and developing the project plans.

“I don’t want anyone to think we don’t know what we’re doing, “ she laughed, “but it’s all still preliminary. This is a huge first step, then we’ll kick it up a notch and move forward.”

Nagle said the charity would start a capital campaign in support of the project to lay out all the particulars, once they have been decided.

“We’re still a few years away, but a huge hurdle has been cleared. To get a project like this done well takes time, and we’ll keep chipping away,” she said.

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