Regardless of modifications, Wilmington blight invoice fails to move Metropolis Council
Here are some of the top stories we’re following for Thursday, October 15, 2020.
Wilmington City Council voted down Mayor Mike Purzycki’s signature legislative effort to crack down on landlords and vacant property owners Thursday night.
The so-called “blight bill” would have changed housing code enforcement from a criminal process to a civil one for the owners of vacant properties and rental buildings.
It would have assessed $250 fines each week for building violations that are not fixed within 30 days. There also would have been a $500 fine for failing to register a rental property.
Additionally, it directed the city’s licenses and inspections department to perform 1,500 rental inspections annually. The changes had a “sunset provision” that would have made them last for three years, after which City Council would have to vote to keep them.
BACKGROUND: Wilmington blight bill is back before City Council with most concessions to critics yet
Thursday’s vote was the end of over three years of wrangling on a bill that sparked outrage at the beginning and never fully gained the trust of many residents and council members, who said it would lead to the gentrification of Wilmington neighborhoods.
The city of Wilmington departments of Licenses & Inspections and Real Estate and Housing join local artists representing Artist Ave and Smashed Label, as well as, community members from the Southbridge Civic Association to unveil community art on vacant homes in the Southbridge area. The pilot project aims to revitalize vacant and blighted homes throughout the Southbridge community. (Photo: Suchat Pederson, The News Journal)
Many were initially worried low-income homeowners unable to afford repairs would be fined and have their properties taken to sheriff sale by the city.
Purzycki’s administration then agreed not to seek changes for homeowners, pushing for the fines to address the city’s some 1,500 vacant houses and its rental units, which make up a majority of the city buildings.
Thursday’s bill was the most pared-down version of it yet, with an increase in business license registration fees for landlords out of the picture.
BACKGROUND: ‘A tale of two cities’: Wilmington mayor will have to win over more of divided city
“In my 24 years I don’t believe any piece of legislation has been vetted and discussed more than this bill,” sponsor Councilman Bud Freel said before the vote.
But several council members and public commenters said the bill would end up hurting low-income tenants instead because landlords would either raise rent to afford fines, or have their buildings seized by the city at sheriff sale, risking the tenants’ homes.
“We have not made certain that if the city takes a property and it goes into some holding pattern,” tenants would be protected, Councilwoman Yolanda McCoy said.
Wilmington Councilman Bud Freel (Photo: Jerry Habraken, The News Journal)
Freel responded that the state’s landlord-tenant code protects tenants and applies in Wilmington.
Some of the controversy Thursday night surrounded the prior removal of 2nd District Councilman Trippi Congo from office in July when he said he had moved out of the district. It was a move made by City Council President Hanifa Shabazz that her opponents in Council have said was illegal.
MORE TO THE STORY: Wilmington’s Trippi Congo won council presidency, but won’t get 2nd District seat back
Following a public hearing last month in which members voted to keep him out, Councilman Sam Guy has sued the city over the removal.
Congo, who will replace Shabazz as council president in January, himself made an appearance in public comments asking council not to vote for the bill without the 2nd District having a representative. So did his 2nd District successor Shané Darby.
The bill received 5 yes votes and 7 no votes.
“We are disappointed, of course, to see council fall prey to the same poor excuses for doing nothing while our poorest tenants live in squalid conditions,” Purzycki said in a statement. “Council had a choice to support landlords or to support our most vulnerable citizens. They chose poorly.”
Purzycki, who was elected to a second term last month, said he will continue to pursue the housing code changes – an effort that could see more roadblocks in the next term with Congo, a Purzycki critic, presiding over Council instead of Shabazz.
HOW MEMBERS VOTED
- Linda Gray: No
- Zanthia Oliver: No
- Michelle Harlee: No
- Vash Turner: No
- Yolanda McCoy: No
- Chris Johnson: Yes
- Bud Freel: Yes
- Ciro Adams: Yes
- Rysheema Dixon: No
- Sam Guy: No
- Loretta Walsh: Yes
Contact Jeanne Kuang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2476.
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