After several months of discussion and debate, a committee has released a series of recommendations on ways to change the way Newark approaches rental housing.
The committee – made up of residents, students, landlords, city officials and University of Delaware officials –presented its report to the public last week and will present it to city council early next year.
“The goal of these recommendations is to be broad brush,” Planning Director Mary Ellen Gray said, adding that the committee and the planning department will study them further if council signs off.
Mayor Jerry Clifton, who attended the Nov. 14 meeting, expressed appreciation for the committee’s work.
“We certainly appreciate having the efforts this group put forward over months and months of meetings,” Clifton said. “This is the beginning of a broader discussion the city has been longing for.”
Freeman Williams, a committee member representing the Newark NAACP, called the process a “real eye-opener.”
“I assumed there are a lot of easy answers, but there are not,” Williams said. “We really need to spend the time to look at how we can move forward. There are some issues that are complex that will take time to solve. There are some that are easier.”
Marene Jordan, director of the Newark Housing Authority, said the report highlights the need to have more affordable housing in the city. Nearly half of the recipients of the NHA’s housing vouchers this year had to go outside the city to find housing due to the high cost of apartments in Newark, she said.
“Running an affordable housing program in a college town is difficult,” Jordan said.
Here’s a look at some of the committee’s recommendations:
Community relations campaign: The city and UD should partner on a community relations campaign to help students living off campus understand expectations and common courtesies as a community member in the city of Newark. That could include a “Good Neighbor Guide” pamphlet and a Student Government Association program to organize community events for off-campus students.
Data collection: UD should survey students about where they live off campus in order to provide better data to city planners.
Complaint database: To the extent legally allowed, the city should create a public online database of code enforcement complaints so residents can check on the status of complaints they filed.
Rental home inspections: The city should start a marketing campaign to encourage tenants to allow code enforcement officers to inspect their houses and apartments. This would address concerns about the safety of rental properties that have not been inspected for several years because the landlord tells tenants to deny access to the inspectors. The city should also create a public database of rental homes that are up-to-date with their inspections.
Report citations to landlords: The city should notify landlords when their tenants are cited for offenses such as underage drinking, littering, disorderly premises, standing on roofs, etc. Currently, landlords are only notified of noise violations.
Student-home ordinance: The city should reassess the effectiveness of the 20-year-old student-home ordinance, which regulates rental permits for single-family homes occupied by more than two college students.
Problem landlords: The city should consider penalizing landlords for repeat code and criminal offenses and consider escalating fines for repeat offenders and problem properties that require excessive enforcement.
Late fees: The city should reduce rental permit late fees from 25 percent to 5 percent, to match the late fees for other city permits.
Promoting affordable housing: The city should require developers to include a percentage of units designated as affordable housing or pay a fee-in-lieu that would be collected by the city and used for affordable housing initiatives. The city should also consider a density bonus if affordable units are included in development projects.
Promoting housing for non-students: The city should allow for accessory dwelling units (such as an apartment over a garage) at owner-occupied homes. Those units should be restricted to “non-transient” tenants. The city should also allow duplexes in areas with single-family zoning.
Promote homeownership: The city should reinstate the Promoting Owner-Occupancy of Homes Program, which provided incentives to people who bought rental properties and committed to living there. The city should also rename the program to avoid the unfortunate acronym POOH. Incentives could be in the form of reduced mortgage rates, tax abatement, waiving development/permit fees, and/or grants or low-interest loans for property renovations.
Affordable housing initiatives: The city should partner with the Diamond State Community Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity or other affordable housing developers to purchase and manage homes to renovate and sell to qualifying families. This would promote owner-occupancy of homes and prevent homes from turning into rentals.
Reducing stigmas: The city should work with civic associations and police to improve the safety and increase the appeal of neighborhoods that have rental housing opportunities but have a negative stigma from the general public and are considered unsafe or undesirable to live in.
Increase density downtown: The city should revise the zoning code and comprehensive development plan to increase housing density in downtown areas within close proximity to UD.