Confronting Our Housing Crisis
The Eighth District has an exceptional quality of life that makes our neighborhoods some of the best places to live in the country. As the Eighth District’s City Council Member, I will work hard every day to preserve and enhance that quality of life in the Eighth District. I will doggedly protect the residential character of our neighborhoods and I will work with our civic associations to spearhead volunteer initiatives to clean up litter in our neighborhoods and contribute to the upkeep and improvement of our parks. I will be an active partner with the Public Works Department in realizing the vision of Mayor Purzycki’s Beautiful City initiatives to enhance the attractiveness of Pennsylvania Avenue as the premier gateway into our city and of Delaware Avenue at Trolley Square as, along with Market Street, one of the city’s most important Main Street corridors.
For the Eighth District to be a place where children growing up here today will want to return and raise families of their own, and for the City of Wilmington to be the just and inclusive community we want it to be, our city as a whole must do more. We simply must confront our long-term housing crisis.
When it comes to housing, there is an affordability crisis in much of Wilmington. The majority of households in Wilmington are renting households and even before COVID-19, the incomes of renting households in Wilmington were falling $10,000 short on average of the income needed to afford the median rent in Wilmington. At the same time, there is a quality crisis when it comes to housing in Wilmington. We have too many non-resident landlords who use their Wilmington properties as supplements to their incomes without actively managing and adequately taking care of their properties. If tenants complain, they risk eviction, particularly since the vast majority of Wilmington tenants when pressed to the wall in court must fend for themselves without legal representation. Landlords who do not meet their responsibilities under the City Code not only violate the rights of their tenants; they lower property values throughout the city.
Confronting Wilmington’s housing crisis will ultimately require a comprehensive, long-term strategy, including a strategy to attract investments to upgrade our beautiful and historic, but badly deteriorated legacy housing stock and a strategy to improve landlord compliance with the City Code. But we have a more immediate emergency that the new Council will need to respond to on day one. The eviction rate in Wilmington was already more than three times the national average before COVID and one of the highest of any city in our region. Evictions have rippling effects that lead over the long run to a deterioration in the quality of life of communities. They contribute to homelessness, poverty and a higher rate of violent crime. COVID has made what has long been a simmering tempest in Wilmington a gathering storm that presently threatens the long-term stability of our city.
As of May of this year, the unemployment rate in Wilmington was 20 percent, in the range of the peak unemployment rate in America during the depths of the Great Depression and quadruple the rate in Wilmington last year. Many in Wilmington are expected to fall off an eviction cliff as a result of COVID-related job- and income-loss and resulting rent arrears when the moratorium on evictions currently in place in connection with Delaware’s state of emergency is lifted. This is a crisis that no neighborhood in Wilmington can afford to ignore. At stake is Wilmington’s attractiveness long-term as a place to do business and raise a family. At stake is our cohesion as a just and inclusive community.
After the new Council is sworn it, it should work quickly to facilitate the development of an emergency assistance eviction diversion initiative that would provide targeted rental and other assistance to prevent as many Wilmington households as possible from being driven off a COVID-related eviction cliff into homelessness. Council and the Administration should seek to engage the Delaware State Housing Authority, community organizations, local stakeholders and private philanthropy to develop and finance this initiative, and should explore seeding the initiative with federal Emergency Solutions Grant and Community Development Block Grant funds utilizing COVID-related federal waivers. An integral part of this emergency assistance diversion initiative should be a Right to Counsel pilot, developed in partnership with the Delaware bar and Delaware’s legal aid organizations, to provide legal representation to Wilmington families threatened with eviction as a result of the pandemic.