new_DPM_site_banner_revised
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lawmakers pitch broad strategy for addressing Delaware's housing crisis at DSU town hall

Representative Sherry Dorsey-Walker, Senator Sarah McBride, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Representative Sherae'a Moore and Senator Marie Pinkney participate in a town hall at Delaware State University on Wednesday.
Paul Kiefer
/
Delaware Public Media
Representative Sherry Dorsey-Walker, Senator Sarah McBride, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Representative Sherae'a Moore and Senator Marie Pinkney participate in a town hall at Delaware State University on Wednesday.

State lawmakers and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer joined a town hall on Delaware’s escalating housing shortage in Dover Wednesday.

The town hall, organized by the Delaware Continuum of Care, offered lawmakers a chance to rally support for a set of tenant protection bills that stalled this year, including one prohibiting landlords from turning away rental applicants solely for using Section 8 housing vouchers.

Natalie Fountain, a member of Delaware's Human and Civil Rights Commission, echoed their sentiments, pointing to the proposed Homeless Person' Bill of Rights — a bill that would have prohibited discrimination based on housing status — as especially vital as rates of homelessness surge in every corner of the state. State Rep. Sherry Dorsey-Walker (D-Wilmington) expressed hope that lawmakers will begin reconsidering that bill and others within the first weeks of next year's session in January.

Panelists also brainstormed plans to address the fundamental shortage of housing units that drives Delaware’s crisis. Meyer points to New Castle County’s HOPE Center as a model to replicate in Kent and Sussex Counties, where emergency transitional housing needs surged during the pandemic.

“I know there are plans in the works, I know there are tremendous challenges, but we need other facilities like the HOPE Center across the state," he said, noting that as of Tuesday, a third of HOPE Center residents were from Kent and Sussex Counties.

But as State Sen. Sarah McBride (D-Claymont) underscored, tenant protections and transitional housing — as well as scaled-up mental health, addiction and domestic violence survivor resources — are only the tip of the iceberg when trying to stem the state's mounting housing crisis. She says Delaware needs to address the core driver of its housing crisis: a severe shortage of housing supply, especially subsidized and other designated low-income housing.

“At the state level, the reality is that we don’t have the stock that’s necessary," she said. "That’s true nationwide, but here in Delaware, we’ve lost a fifth of low-rent units in this state in recent years.”

McBride and lawmakers note their plan is to pursue incentives for both nonprofit and for-profit developers to build new housing – including low-income housing – at an accelerated rate. They also support broad inclusionary zoning reforms to spur new housing development, though Meyer adds that skyrocketing construction costs could seriously limit the pace of new construction.

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