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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman Introduces Legislation to Help Expand Housing Options for Voucher Recipients

January 7, 2021

DOVER – Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman introduced legislation on Thursday to help expand rental housing options for some of Delaware’s lowest wage earners, vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 167 would create a mitigation fund to offset certain expenses landlords say they incur when they accept tenants supported by government-sponsored rental assistance programs.

“Stable housing is the key to improved quality of life and opportunity. Housing assistance programs exist specifically to help people at serious risk of ending up on our streets, in our homeless shelters or our emergency rooms without these subsidies,” said Sen. Lockman, D-Wilmington.

“Yet many voucher recipients struggle to find housing because the owners of many rental properties are unwilling to deal with some of the strings that come with state and federal assistance programs,” she said. “The goal of this legislation is to ease that burden by providing a financial backstop that will help alleviate those concerns and open more housing opportunities for those who need them most.”

Roughly 6,500 people in Delaware currently receive rental assistance through either the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program or the state-funded State Rental Assistance Program due to their income, a disability, previous military service or involvement with the foster care system.

Although all federal and state housing subsidy programs guarantee monthly payments directly to landlords, many rental property owners in Delaware either outright reject tenants who participate in those programs or only offer apartments in specific buildings for them to rent.

The Delaware Fair Housing Act and Delaware’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Code both prohibit discrimination based on source of income, but each law also excludes housing vouchers from those protections.

As a result, families who hold vouchers struggle to find housing in Delaware, which only has an estimated 36 available units for every 100 low-income renters.

Introduced by Sen. Lockman in March 2021, Senate Bill 90 sought to eliminate the legal exemption for landlords who refuse to rent to families who hold vouchers.

“I heard a lot of feedback from landlords after I sponsored SB 90, including many who accept vouchers, about the added costs that come with state and federal housing assistance programs,” she said. “SS 1 for SB 167 should help take those concerns off the table and help remove any remaining impediments that might be preventing landlords from accepting tenants based entirely on the source of their rental payments.”

Under SS 1 for SB 167, landlords would be able to file reimbursement claims for eligible expenses from the Landlord Mitigation Fund, a program administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) and financed through a combination of available state funds, federal pandemic relief money and other sources.

Those expenses would include lost rental income due to delays in the public housing authority inspection process, one month’s rent of lost income due to a tenant vacating a rental without notice, damages in excess of a security deposit and improvement costs required by a public housing authority inspection.

“As a legislator and a past board member on the Newark Housing Authority, I have often heard complaints from landlords, tied to the paperwork and hurdles involved with participating in a federal or state voucher program,” said Rep. Paul Baumbach, the House prime sponsor of SS 1 for SB 167. “This bill is designed to reduce those barriers, by providing fair compensation to landlords. This should lead to a meaningful boost in the availability of affordable housing to some of the most vulnerable families in our state. I am thankful to Sen. Lockman for her leadership on boosting housing for all Delaware families.”