Public Outcry Scuttles Government Power Play

A broad coalition of community activists rally support to halt the General Assembly’s efforts to give the City of Wilmington greater power to seize property

 · June 26, 2022

The eminent domain bill that sparked immense controversy amongst Delawareans has been tabled until 2023. 

House Bill 458, which would have granted the City of Wilmington expanded powers to acquire vacant and abandoned property, seemed poised to pass the House last week after being rushed through the committee with no debate. The bill was described by a key house legislator as “very important to some of our challenged neighborhoods.” 

However, critics and community activists criticized the bill at the press conference last week and accused the city of planning to use this new authority to take property from homeowners to sell to large real estate developers. The bill’s sponsor backed down.

Critics of the bill said Wilmington is already facing a housing crisis and that this bill would hinder the betterment of the current citizens in favor of large corporate capital interests.

“They bring these new developments in, and with that, even the affordable housing in the area starts to see an increase,” said Coby Owens of the NAACP at the press conference about the bill,  “Therefore, people are displaced. I believe no city can survive without growth or reinvestment. However, it must be done in a way that does not displace the people that are here already.”

At that press conference, housing advocates from all over the city gathered together to speak on why this bill is harmful to many of Wilmington’s low-income and minority communities.  Advocates agree with the effort to develop safer, more stable neighborhoods, but the legislation suggests the communities themselves are too challenged to participate in this effort.  

The sentiment expresses by the organizers was that eminent domain is a power move by the government to help push for gentrification. New Castle County Council member, Jea Street Sr. hammered this point home. 

Anybody with common sense knows that 1,500 vacant properties in the city is a problem, but if you are going to make the community safer, and if you’re serious about housing, then why isn’t the term ‘affordable housing” being used as part of the process?

Jea Street Sr.

Street accused the General Assembly and Mayor Mike Purzycki of trying to force residents out of their homes in favor of large real estate developers. One speaker even accused the mayor of wanting to “march black and brown people out of Wilmington.”

Shyanne Miller, a housing advocate, questioned why the proposed legislation didn’t apply to other cities in Delaware.  “There are too many families who are out on the street,” Miller said. “We need to protect their civil and legal rights. We need to make sure we are protecting all Delawareans, whether they live in a home or not. We don’t know if it is going to benefit Delawareans as intended. Currently, the city of Wilmington can already use eminent domain to acquire properties that have fallen into disrepair or are unfit for human habitation. Why do we need HB 458 and in Wilmington to be specific?”

Instead of HB 458, housing activists urged the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 101, which would provide renters facing eviction with legal help and other resources.

Jennifer Thompkins, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League (MWUL) announced that  “MWUL supports SB101. It creates the right to legal representation for renters facing eviction. Every single person has a right to fair and secure housing. When you do not have to worry about where you have to lay your head at night, that empowers children to do better in school, and parents to be more productive at work and in society.”

Announcement that HB 458 will not be considered this session

About the Author

Asya Jones is a 21 year old student from Baton Rouge, LA who is entering her senior year at Delaware State University. Asya is majoring in Mass Communications with a concentration in Convergence Journalism, and her post-graduation goals include starting her own news media company specifically for women of color. Read more from Asya Jones.