Back in June I wrote about the lies and propaganda being spun up in order to block a bill that would rewrite the housing code so that Wilmington could more rapidly and effectively address some of its long-standing issues with slumlords and those landlords who think that they can get away with substandard housing in our neighborhoods. It’s still going on:
Forgetting about the misinformation, it is especially galling that this is being distributed to the people who most need more secure and healthy housing, the folks who most need to get out of the game the worst slum landlords play with poor renters.
There’s no “Fines and Fees on Neighborhoods” being proposed by this bill. Who would pay that? There are fines on non-compliant landlords and there are increased registration fees for units to cover the costs of pre-rental inspections. No neighborhood fines. This basic fine and fee scenario isn’t even new — it is what is in the code NOW, the new code leaves the fines the same, but makes the offense civil rather than criminal. Wilmington does have rental registration fees, they go up here to offset the cost of routine rental inspections. What this bill does do is to get homeowners OUT of the fines business, except in certain emergencies.
Vacants and foreclosures? The city doesn’t control foreclosures, banks and owners who don’t pay their mortgages do. If the folks behind this are telling us that it is too costly for landlords to keep up their properties, then let those landlords sell those properties to folks who know how to run a rental business.
Grants to rehab vacants? Some vacants are rehabbed by local non-profits with the help of city grants and/or grants from other agencies and foundations. Is there enough money to rehab vacants? Nope. But pretending that this doesn’t even exist doesn’t help their case. What can’t happen is to hand over money to the current owners of vacants. The very fact that they have a vacant and possibly mouldering building is a business failure and there is just no reason to throw good taxpayer money after bad.
Homeowner repair program? This also exists, commonly called the Facades program. It has been around for as long as I’ve lived here and it is targeted to low-income homeowners who need to get work done on the exterior of their homes. Is there enough money for the need? Nope. But gain, why pretend this isn’t here? How if we ask for MORE and expand the program?
Pre-rental inspections? Reinstating these is in the Blight Bill and if it passes, they will come back. Which is a very good thing. Why pretend that these aren’t already part of the proposed update to the code?
Ground zero of housing insecurity is a lack of affordable housing opportunities for those who most need it. In Wilmington (really, all over Delaware) this lack of affordable housing has created a market vacuum that is occupied by those whose business it is to make their money from extracting as much as possible from poor people. If you have read the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond you get the model at work. Poor people already living at the edge of risk are charged too much for housing that isn’t often up to snuff here. The bet is that the risk these folks live with will keep them from complaining too much about housing conditions. It’s one of the reasons some of my neighbors over the years ask me to help them address their landlord issues. And even then, these folks don’t stay very long here. Some figure a way to get to neighborhoods that are more secure, healthier and more conducive to children. Others are either evicted or have leases not renewed sometimes for no other reason than the landlord wants to raise the rent. Displacement is baked in the cake.
There’s more, of course, but there is just no reason to oppose a Code revision that focuses on Wilmington’s biggest housing issue and that is rentals. Still, a City that can’t ask its property owners for some minimum standards is a city that is failing. It is failing because they communicate to the markets that the quality of housing is not important — and that they won’t object to substandard conditions, even the existence of lead based paint. So what rushes in are “investors” whose entire business model is in targeting poor people and extracting as much cash from them as possible.
Wilmington needs this code revision. Wilmington’s homeowners need this code revision. And Wilmington needs housing advocates who will be dead focused on the *real* issue here — a need to get serious about building more affordable housing options. In the meantime, this code revision tells landlords that they are expected to invest in safe and secure housing for their current tenants here in the City. A small step that would mean a great deal citywide.
***If you don’t have a ton of time for books, On the Media (my fav NPR program) handed over 4 weeks of their program to the eviction crisis:
Episode 1: Why?
Episode 2: 40 Acres
Episode 3: Landlords & Tenants
Episode 4: Solutions
These range from 40 to 50 mins long. Worth every minute if you are interested in the problem of affordable housing.