Wilmington mayor fields complaints while seeking support for controversial anti-blight proposal
Wilmington’s mayor took his controversial anti-blight proposal directly to city residents Wednesday.
Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement his goal for the meeting was to “dispel inaccurate information” and gain support for the changes he has proposed to the housing code in hopes of “strengthening city neighborhoods.”
His plan would shift enforcement for code violations at vacant and rental properties from the current criminal system to one of weekly civil fines — which he says would speed up the process.
“The existing system … allows people to go without any penalty whatsoever for up to 300 days,” he said. “It’s almost a year before anybody even gets into court. And who knows what even happens when they get to court … So we need a more responsive tool.”
Purzycki says the proposed system would result in more delinquent properties taken to sheriff sale.
The legislation would increase the registration fee for vacant properties, raise the business licensing fee for landlords and set a goal for the city to inspect 1,500 rental properties per year.
Purzycki’s two-year effort to change the housing code has seen criticism from residents, landlords, advocates and City Council members. Councilman Bud Freel, who sponsored the ordinance, tabled it before a recent City Council meeting because he said he hadn’t gathered enough votes.
At a committee hearing last month, city landlords said the housing code changes would deny them due process and would force them to pass increased costs on to renters.
Purzycki disagrees. “There’s nothing in it for us to be punishing landlords,” he said at Wednesday's meeting. “It’s not a moneymaker for us, it is misery, it’s political headache. All we’re trying to do is make the city better.”
“Now that we clarified that homeowners are not impacted at all, all we heard from the entire evening are people from the real estate investment community saying that it’s too onerous,” he added. “I disagree.”
Renee Spruiel, a landlord associated with the local landlords group Greater Wilmington Housing Providers, remained unconvinced. “The spirit of the legislation is good,” she said. “It’s just the implementation and the way they want to go about it that needs to be reworked.”
Spruiel argues raising the business licensing fee for landlords would only impact those who have registered their rentals with the city. Others at the meeting agreed the administration’s plan would affect not only “bad” landlords but also the “good” ones.
But some were eager for change.
Mercedes Fields assists and advocates for tenants at the Hicks Anderson Community Center. She says while landlords and the Mayor’s administration may not agree on everything, a plan that holds landlords accountable must advance.
“We have to put something in place in order to start things moving,” said Fields. “If we don’t, we’re losing ground. We’ve been at this for years.
Another community meeting about the Mayor’s proposal will be held Thursday night at St. Elizabeth School. Two more are planned for early July.