From the Field: Delaware Advocates Make Progress on Anti-Blight Bills

Affordable housing and community development advocates from Delaware are working to gain passage of two bills designed to strengthen local governments’ ability to counter blight in their communities. Housing Alliance Delaware, an NLIHC state partner, worked with leaders from the State Attorney General’s office to have the bills introduced into the Delaware House of Representatives. The bills advanced out of committee on June 14 and now wait for a full vote in the House.

The two bills, HB 187 and HB 188, seek to counter blight, a growing issue in Delaware, by expanding local governments’ authority to prevent absentee landlords from acquiring more abandoned properties and to collect code enforcement and hazard abatement fees from delinquent landlords of blighted properties. House Bill 187, “Prequalification of Bidders at Sheriff’s Sale,” would allow local governments to create a prequalification process for bidders at sheriff’s sales. Local governments use tax lien sales to enforce taxes and assessments on blighted properties. Transferring these abandoned properties to new owners can bring new investments to improve the properties, but Housing Alliance Delaware notes that the new owners do not always make the needed improvements. HB 187 would allow local governments to refuse to sell to sheriff-sale bidders who own other neglected properties. Through the proposed prequalification process, local governments would be able to screen for delinquent property owners and preemptively reduce the risk that properties would continue to be vacant and poorly maintained after sale.

House Bill 188, “Application of Liens for Political Subdivisions,” would allow local governments to place a lien on a blighted property for costs incurred on code enforcement and hazard abatement. These liens would transfer the cost burden of property maintenance from the government to property owners, incentivizing owners to maintain properties that might otherwise become blighted. Together, these two bills would allow local governments to address current blight and prevent it in the future, with no additional fiscal burden to the state.

Representative J.J. Johnson introduced the bills on May 18, and on June 14 Housing Alliance Delaware leaders spoke in support of the bill following the organization’s annual Day for Housing. The bills passed out of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee on June 14 and now await a full House vote. The Congressional session ends on June 30, but advocates are hopeful the bills will be voted on prior to the end of session.

“Housing Alliance Delaware was pleased to collaborate with legislators, local governments, and non-profit housing advocates to craft this blight abatement legislative initiative.  Through HB 187 and HB 188, we will empower communities to alleviate the difficult problem of blight to advance better housing opportunities and help promote vibrant communities in our state.”

For more information, contact Tina Showalter, Housing Alliance Delaware executive director, at: [email protected]