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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Lockman files legislation to expand housing options for voucher recipients

May 9, 2024

DOVER – Delaware Senate leadership marked National Affordable Housing Month this week by introducing legislation that will expand housing opportunities for some of Delaware’s lowest wage earners, vulnerable seniors, and people with disabilities.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman and Rep. Sherae’a “Rae” Moore, Senate Bill 293 would prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on whether they receive federal or state housing assistance. 

“How much longer will we continue to talk out of both sides of our mouths when it comes to affordable housing,” asked Sen. Lockman, chair of the Senate Housing & Land Use Committee. 

“On the one hand, we invest roughly $5 million a year on housing assistance programs to help keep vulnerable Delawareans from ending up on our streets, in our homeless shelters or in our emergency rooms,” she said. “Then, on the other hand, we tell landlords that they don’t really need to accept vouchers from those programs, knowing full well that doing so perpetuates the very struggles and hardships we are trying to prevent. If we truly believe that stable housing is a basic right and a central component of the American Dream, then we should be willing to cast votes that will help the people most in need of our support.”

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 293.

As a result of those provisions, families who hold vouchers often struggle to find housing in Delaware, which only has an estimated 38 available units for every 100 low-income renters. Due to that lack of available housing, the average family spends close to 3 years on a waiting list for a voucher. Once one is issued, 75% of Delaware State Housing Authority voucher holders are forced to request an extension because they are unable to find a rental unit in 120 days.

Both the 2020 Delaware Statewide Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice developed by the Delaware State Fair Housing Consortium and the African American Task Force’s Infrastructure & Environment Subcommittee recommended that the Delaware General Assembly pass legislation to prohibit discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers.

Sen. Lockman and Rep. Moore introduced a similar bill to eliminate those provisions in 2021. Although that measure was passed by the Delaware Senate and released from the House Housing & Community Affairs Committee in 2022, the legislation was never brought up for a final vote in the House.

“For too long, discrimination has prevented people receiving government assistance from living in safe, affordable housing,” said Rep. Sherae’a “Rae” Moore, a member of the House Housing Committee and the House prime sponsor of SB 293. “Given the severity of the affordable housing crisis, we should be doing all that we can to remove the barriers that prevent families from finding security and stability in a place they can call home. I’m proud to co-sponsor this measure alongside Sen. Lockman and I look forward to passing this bill in the House.”

SB 293 has been assigned to the Senate Housing and Land Use Committee.