‘Profit over people’: Delaware tenants and community leaders push for rent control amid affordable housing shortage

The HOMES Campaign aims to combat rising rent prices, low-quality homes and increasing displacement in Delaware.

Listen 1:33
HOMES Campaign organizers

Organizers with the HOMES Campaign led the group in Wilmington recently, chanting several slogans at the gathering saying “neighborhoods are under attack, renters stand up, fight back." (HOMES Campaign/Facebook)

From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!

Delawareans with the lowest incomes are being displaced by the rising cost of rent in New Castle County. That’s just one of the findings in a Delaware State Housing Authority report that’s drawing concern from both renters and community leaders.

Renters and community leaders gathered in Wilmington recently to discuss those concerns and a myriad of other issues and hurdles associated with renting.

Organizers with the HOMES Campaign (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, Stability) led the group chanting several slogans at the gathering saying “neighborhoods are under attack, renters stand up, fight back.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The HOMES Campaign aims to coordinate community engagement across the state’s three counties, organize efforts to protect renters’ rights and advocate for statewide policy solutions. The group also prioritizes relationship building with landlords and property owners to improve collaboration and understanding.

Branden Fletcher
Branden Fletcher, one of the co-coordinators at the HOMES campaign, opens up the discusion with rental experiences. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY News)

Shyanne Miller, co-coordinator at the HOMES Campaign and organizer with the City of Wilmington Autonomous Tenants Union, said the group also conducts door-to-door outreach as part of their community engagement efforts.

“Almost all of our community outreach activities [are] door-knocking, community meetings. Sometimes we do things through the union where we knock on people’s doors and we ask them, ‘How is it going?’ We do training,” she said. “Every time a renter comes on, the first thing they’re talking about is the cost to rent or the inability to find a place to live. Like every single time, it never fails.”

Tenants join conversational event from the HOMES Campaign
Almost 15 tenants joined the conversational event from the HOMES Campaign sharing their experiences of renting. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY News)

Rising rents have resulted in displacement, where lower income residents are forced to relocate, according to the Delaware State Housing Authority’s 400-page Housing Needs Assessment. The report found many individuals with limited means are forced to relocate, some even to other states, due to unaffordable housing costs.

‘Gentrification is real and it is happening’

Based on the report, the percentage of low-income renter households in the state decreased from 37% to 28% between 2010 and 2020. This decline may be due to low-income renters leaving Delaware, sharing housing to afford rent or earning higher incomes.

“There is displacement happening. In other words, gentrification is real and it is happening,” she said. “They’re prioritizing profit over people at the end of the day.”

Among the problems, Miller said, is that the housing market is too expensive, and there are too few homes being built for residents earning less money. She said there’s also been ineffective use of abandoned properties.

“Housing production is not keeping up. Trends indicate that the composition of the state housing stock is unlikely to change. Why? Because we’re starting to see that people are more likely to build single-family homes, which are the most expensive type of housing,” she said, adding, “58% of the housing stock is single-family homes.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“There’s four times the number of vacant units for recreational purposes — we [are] talking about, what, beach houses — than there are for both rent and sale combined? Meaning that there are more empty beach houses than there are places that we can purchase,” she added.

Once a renter, Tish Coleman is a lifelong Wilmington resident and single mother of three who’s been homeless for almost a year. Throughout her 50 years in Wilmington, she has frequently moved due to rental issues, ranging from problems with previous tenants to unaffordable rent prices.

“I had a landlord who had been a landlord for 30 years, he had a ponzi scheme and the state finally caught up with him and put him in jail at 70 years old and did not go back and correct the judgments that he put out there,” she said. “This landlord, my property where I lived that I moved in, it was $950. Two years later, it was $1,250.”

Coleman attended the HOMES Campaign event and talked of other issues rising from landlords not keeping up with maintenance of their homes. She said that creates problems for both current and future tenants.

“I moved into this new house that I was living in, and the reason I had to move is because that landlord had a $16,000 water bill. The city came out and turned my water off,” she said. “It should have then been the responsibility of the landlord to figure out how to get the water on. But, no, the responsibility was pushed off on me.”

Eventually, due to the ongoing issues with her rental home, she made the difficult decision to leave, which ultimately left her homeless.

“Parents like myself, we don’t have the force to fight these landlords. We are vulnerable women who are out here by ourselves raising our children,” she said. “These ones get away with these things because they prey on the vulnerabilities of women and children.”

‘Rent stabilization is the next step’

Last month, state lawmakers unveiled a package of bills aimed to address housing issues in the state, but Miller and others were concerned about what they say was the lack of urgency in addressing solutions for renters. One solution she said lawmakers should implement is rent control, a measure already enacted in states like California, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

“We just had a package of bills get released in the Senate and none of them actually address any of the rent issues,” she said. “At some point, someone has to say ‘rent stabilization is the next step’ so that we can at least make sure that renters are getting cared for.”

“Rent stabilization is a form of regulating rent so that the rents only go so high. So typically, the government [or] the state, they put a limitation on how high the rent can be raised, and they also tie it to inflation,” she said.

The HOMES Campaign plans to continue advocating for changes in state laws and is also planning a trip to Washington, D.C. later this month to protest rising rents and overall housing affordability.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal