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After years of rejection, 'blight bill' finally passes in Wilmington

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

Wilmington City Council finally passed a revision to its housing code—after years of modifications and rejections. The measure is an attempt to crack down on problem landlords.

The so-called “blight bill” shifts the system of code enforcement for rental properties from a criminal to a civil process—which proponents say will speed enforcement up. Weekly $250 fines for each unfixed code violation can turn into liens against the property, which can eventually be taken to sheriff sale. 

The change has been a priority of Mayor Mike Purzycki’s administration for years— but never passed, until Thursday. 

Just three council members voted against the final version. Opponents argued it could cause gentrification and displacement of renters. 

But sponsor Maria Cabrera pushed back on these claims. 

“This legislation is just changing from criminal to civil. It already exists in the criminal,” Cabrera said. “So if landlords are getting fined and going through the court process to try to get them to bring their properties up to code, has gentrification occurred because of that?”

Councilwoman Linda Gray supported the change, and says she witnessed the failures of the old system in her years as a magistrate judge. 

“I saw repeatedly where people refused to make the necessary repairs, and the process started all over again,” she said. “The criminal method did not give the results we were looking for.”

The ordinance becomes effective July 1, 2021.

Freshman Councilwoman Shané Darby opposed the ordinance, and has introduced ordinances to impose civil fines on landlords without business licenses and to collect more detailed information from them. 

Those measures head to committee. 

A proposal by Councilwoman Gray to institute “real-time” public comment on each agenda item failed Thursday. Councilman Nathan Field tabled his competing ordinance that would place public comment in a thirty minute period before the meeting starts. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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