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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes legislation to expand housing options for voucher recipients

April 14, 2022

DOVER – The Delaware State Senate marked National Fair Housing Month on Thursday by passing two bills that will work together to help expand housing opportunities for some of Delaware’s lowest wage earners, vulnerable seniors, and people with disabilities.

Senate Bill 90 would prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on whether they receive federal or state housing assistance. 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 not only a basic human right, but also a central component of the American Dream,” said Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, the prime Senate sponsor of SB 90.

“Housing assistance programs exist specifically to help people who are unable to help themselves and are 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 still struggle to find housing because many rental property owners are simply unwilling to deal with the strings that they say come with state and federal assistance programs. Thank you to my Senate colleagues for recognizing that there are steps we can take to lift up the people who need our help the most, while providing a financial backstop that will help alleviate the concerns of landlords.”

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, most landlords in Delaware reject tenants who participate in those programs or only offer them apartments in specific buildings – a form of discrimination legally permissible under current state law.

While both the Delaware Fair Housing Act and Delaware’s Residential Landlord-Tenant Code prohibit discrimination based on source of income, each of those laws also state that a landlord’s refusal to accept government-sponsored rental assistance cannot be used to justify an administrative or judicial proceeding – sections of the code that would be removed by SB 90.

As a result of those provisions, families who hold vouchers often struggle to find housing in Delaware, which only has an estimated 36 available units for every 100 low-income renters. Due to that lack of available housing, the average family spends 31 months on a waiting list for a voucher.

Once one has been issued, most families then must seek an extension on the time limits they are given to find rental housing willing to accept a voucher.

“Delaware law allows landlords to turn away potential tenants if they receive government-sponsored assistance. These laws are financially discriminatory, leaving those already in need struggling to find a home,” said Rep. Sherae’a “Rae” Moore, the lead House sponsor of SB 90. “It’s crucial we ensure that all residents have equal opportunity, and that begins with the basic right of a roof over their heads. I’m looking forward to passing SB 90 and joining the other states that have protected residents from discrimination based on their income status.”

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 money and other sources.

Those expenses would include lost rental income due to delays in the public housing authority inspection process, 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 housing choice 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. Now more than ever, we need to help any way we can with affordable housing, and this is one more step in that direction.”

SB 90 and SS 1 for SB 167 now head to the House for consideration.