It took winning a second term before Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki saw success in a long-running effort to deal with blighted properties.
The City Council last week passed changes that will stiffen financial penalties for landlords who ignore violation notices. (Newsletter readers can check out the story below).
Purzycki, a landlord himself, is no stranger to both sides of the issue and continued to make a case for improving the city’s housing stock.
The majority on the council now has some new faces backed away from dealing with the issue, thanks to various special interest groups satisfied with the status quo.
The situation led to distractions that included an ordinance vetoed by Purzycki that would require annual inspections of all rental properties before a tenant moved in or renewed a lease.
While a good idea on paper, the mayor was correct in arguing that the inspections would divert attention away from properties that are sometimes unfit for human habitation.
Landlords argued that any crackdown would come with unintended consequences, including owners walking away from their properties, leading to sheriff’s sales and tenants on the street.
In Wilmington, an estimated 50 percent of homes and apartments in the city are rentals. A substantial number are occupied by lower-income residents who struggle to come up with the monthly payment.
Short-term legal remedies are a challenge in a state with tenant-friendly laws passed in response to past abuses. The Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying eviction delays added another layer of uncertainty.
It’s a perfect environment for a small number of landlords who drag their feet on repairs, wait out the current system, and continue to snap up substandard housing.
An emerging issue comes from residents attracted to city life and willing to buy homes in transitioning neighborhoods. As we have seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere, “gentrification” prices long-time residents out of communities.
Wilmington has avoided much of that impact, with higher-end apartment developments rather than rehabs accounting for most current activity.
As things stand, there is plenty of room for new and long-time residents who are willing to fix up properties.
One solution for the good actors is a program with mortgage and other types of assistance. Another is a rapid city response process to complaints of serious violations.
Purzycki deserves praise for not giving up in dealing with entrenched interests. It is now up to the city government to minimize any unintended consequences. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.