If you are listening to Wilmington conversations, you know that the full-court press by the City Administration to remove City residency requirements will come to a head this evening at tonight’s City Council meeting, where the Administration will ask the City Council to remove the residency requirement to work for the City officially.
The residency requirement has been a point of contention for as long as I’ve lived here. The requirement itself is very old and used to be an accepted part of the City fabric. From where I sit, it seems that the objections to the residency requirement parallel the white flight from the City, with some of the loudest objectors to the requirement being Wilmington Police officers.
Giving up on the residency requirement sends a message of failure. Failure to support community and neighborhoods; failure to create sustainable places for people to choose to live. It also seems to give up on those of us who are committed to this place — many are like me who are not tied here by employment and who choose to stay and choose to invest in trying to create a better place. If the City wants to accept that this is not a worthy place to choose to live, then why should *we* stay?
The City’s employment difficulties are quite real. They are not, however, unique. The State of Delaware is down about 2,000 people. Other governments have similar difficulty in attracting applicants. But I don’t believe that the City has done much in terms of quantifying its problem (there should be some data on those interviewed, given offers that were declined because of residency). Nor do I think they have exhausted opportunities to either incentivize City residency. A reminder — these jobs (mostly) come with a real pension and with gold-plated health care. These are benefits not on offer (mostly) in the private sector. But if the State is having the exact same problem, there is something bigger that is the obstacle. If you are paying attention to nationwide employment stats, the entire country is close to full-employment and that has to be a factor for both the State and the City.
Prioritizing spending the taxes of those who live in Wilmington in the broader Wilmington community is an important way to nurture the financial stability of the City. People who live here patronize the businesses here, go to local events, support their communities in multiple ways, and advocate for better schools, better infrastructure, a better quality of life. Many have fought to prioritize hiring Wilmington residents or contractors for local city-funded construction projects, and the City has worked at assisting that goal — because we all know the importance of City taxes going to support City residents and businesses as much as possible. There’s a real disconnect between a serious effort to funnel construction employment to locals and the elimination of the residency requirements.
This Administration has been excellent at focusing on neighborhood development and even in building affordable housing. It is distressing that they can’t see that residency is part of community building.
Councilman Nathan Field has floated a compromise that would redefine the residency limits to include the neighborhoods within a 5 mile radius of Wilmington. This, I think, is an excellent solution that increases the employment pool with somewhat less undermining of Wilmington community. It is a compromise that gives space to the collection of actual data on the job rejection problem and space to craft ways to incentivize living in Wilmington (including giving a wage tax discount to city workers who do live here). I hope that there are Councilpeople and folks in the Administration willing to work towards this, rather than give up on building Wilmington community.