The Senate Housing & Land Use committee on Wednesday heard from dozens of people supporting a bill to provide tenants who lose their leases the right to a lawyer to help.
Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, would set up a system for tenants below 200% of the federal poverty line a right to an attorney when dealing with eviction proceedings.
The bill has 28 additional sponsors and cosponsors, all Democrats.
Among the 30 people speaking in favor of the bill was Javier Horstmann, chief policy advisor for the Delaware State Housing Authority.
“DSHA strongly supports this legislative effort as we have shown through our work to facilitate legal representation through our participation in the eviction defense program,” Horstmann said.
“This program…has demonstrated that access to representation can help prevent evictions and save limited resources to address homelessness.”
Debra Burgos, vice president of property management at the Delaware Apartment Association, said legislators have worked with them to make the bill more palatable than they found previous versions.
“We are very appreciative of the sponsor of this bill for working with our organization to try to find a compromise that will allow this bill to move forward,” Burgos said. “We’re committed to continuing to work with you on those amendments so that we can hopefully all be on the same page.”
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Branden Fletcher, a housing organizer with the HOMES Campaign, said he’s seen the impact evictions have on members of the community.
“I’m tired of seeing my neighbors locked out of their homes, pushed out of their communities, and denied a fair chance,” Fletcher said. “Delaware has a serious housing crisis and I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is in conversations with my neighbors on navigating the complex process of evictions in our state.”
A similar bill last year, Senate Bill 101, would have established a right to counsel for people facing eviction who are under 200% of the poverty line. It passed the Senate 13 to seven, but failed in the House 16 to 23.
The bill’s fiscal note said the program would cost $1,169,565 for the 2022 fiscal year, along with a one time cost of $170,000 for administration, and would cost $2,052,348 in the 2023 fiscal year and $3,661,395 in the 2024 fiscal year.
Townsend said the committee wouldn’t vote on the bill Wednesday because he needed to finalize an amendment, which, when finished, would be turned into a substitute bill because it would make so many changes.
It was unclear exactly what the changes were or when the bill would return to the committee.
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