Delaware Public Media

Controversial anti-blight proposal moves toward vote in Wilmington

May 31, 2019

Legislation meant to fight blight in the city of Wilmington is moving toward a full city council vote — despite opposition from landlords, residents and some council members.

 


A revised version of Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s previously stalled anti-blight proposal was voted out of Council’s Finance and Economic Development committee this week after more than an hour of mostly negative public comment.

The proposed ordinance would change code enforcement from criminal to civil fines for owners of vacant and rental properties — so that violations can be resolved more quickly.

Renee Spruiel argued this would harm Wilmington landlords like herself. “By moving the violations from a criminal system to a civil system, only for landlords, it will take away the landlord’s right to due process,” she said.

The legislation would increase the registration fee for vacant properties and set a goal for the city inspect 1,500 rental properties per year.

It would also raise the business licensing fee for landlords to $100 per rental unit - up from the current formula of $50 for up to two units, or $120 for three or more plus $10 per additional unit.

City resident Jeff Sheraton was among several local landlords who oppose the increase, saying the cost would be passed on to renters. “I know my residents, and I’m sure other residents, are certainly not looking forward to the rent increase that will result from the licensing increases.”

The legislation’s sponsor, Councilman Bud Freel, says the increase would bring Wilmington’s rental license fee closer to those of other First State cities. He adds Wilmington’s rental license fee has remained static for over 20 years, while code enforcement costs have risen.

The legislation estimates the city would receive more than $800,000 of additional revenue annually from the increased rental business license fee.

At this week’s committee meeting, city renters and homeowners expressed concern over fines directed at them — which Freel said are not part of the legislation. Others advocated for more homeowner assistance programs, including home repair grants, as non-punitive methods of addressing blight.

Finance committee member Ciro Adams joined members of the public who complained that the substitute ordinance, ultimately voted out of committee, was posted just hours before the meeting.

Alvin Hughes, a resident of the Trinity Vicinity neighborhood, was among a minority commenting in favor of the ordinance. “This is not a perfect bill, but to do nothing and to maintain the status quo, I think is worse,” he said.

Only three voting members of the Finance and Economic Development committee were present Wednesday, which Freel said was a quorum. Only two voted in favor of the legislation leaving committee. It is scheduled for a full council vote Thursday.