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State Senate passes bills to open housing access for rental voucher recipients

Delaware Public Media
The Delaware General Assembly

The state Senate passed a bill last week that would prohibit landlords from turning down prospective tenants solely for using subsidized housing vouchers.

State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) says her legislation is designed to close a loophole in Delaware’s housing discrimination law that has amplified the state’s affordable housing shortage.

Lockman argues that many landlords refuse to participate in voucher programs, leaving low-income renters with few options.

“For example, the New Castle County Housing Authority has indicated that they give voucher holders 120 days to find housing," she said, "yet only 50 percent of voucher recipients are able to find housing during that window of time due to the lack affordable housing available.”

Delaware has only 38 affordable housing units for every 100 extremely low-income households in Delaware.

Senate Republicans voted against the bill, arguing it would effectively require small landlords to accept vouchers.

“According to the law as it is, a landlord is not required to participate in any government-sponsored rental assistance programs," said state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown). "You take that out, that means that they are required to participate in a government program.”

Pettyjohn and other Republicans argued that the "administrative burden" that voucher programs place on landlords could spur some to withdraw their properties from the rental market, escalating Delaware's housing shortage.

But the Senate voted unanimously to support a companion bill, also from Sen. Lockman, that would create a fund to reimburse landlords who participate in voucher programs for some expenses, including repairing damage done by tenants. The fund, administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority, would start with $150,000, though it has no permanent funding source.

The bill would take effect six months after being signed into law: enough time, Lockman said, for voucher programs to work with landlords to streamline the voucher system.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.