COMMENTARY: The $200,000 leased-land housing question

[State] Sen. Bruce Ennis recommended $200,000 should be designed for creating an “Office of Manufactured Housing” within the Delaware State Housing Authority to better coordinate issues involving 11 percent of housing stock considered affordable homes, reported to be 50,000-60,000 by the DSHA.

Low-income and limited-income (seniors) citizens [who] are drawn to affordable housing on leased land, not supported by taxpayers, have been given short shrift by state lawmakers. Why would that change now, even though it is the right thing to do?

Delaware has no oversight for the non-free-enterprise business of leased-land landlords who, until 2013, when Rent Justification was passed, could raise rents once a year without limit for any or no reason. It’s no wonder that two

Fred Neil

Fred Neil

respected publications in 2014 declared leased-land communities recession-proof. Are the proper taxes even being paid on the millions of dollars in gross income received in rents?

Even the legal battles fighting the egregious behavior by the landlords to protect the beleaguered limited-income homeowners are endangered by being swamped by lawyers fueled by the flood of rent money. In current court cases, one community won in arbitration and Chancery Court, [but] now faces a Superior Court appeal, all the while paying a higher rent than ordered by the arbitrator.

Another deals with a community owner who seeks a “market rent” increase while the value of homes in his community drops and home resales are a long time coming. Worse, the landlord adds nothing of value for his existing tenants, and he has a whole new section still to be developed.

To bring Sen. Ennis’ proposal to life, the authority of DSHA needs to be expanded beyond just arranging financing of homes for low-income families. DSHA is the ideal place to oversee the leased-land housing because of its existing structure, staff and reputation for helping the very population attracted to leased-land housing.

Permanent financing of the new department, at no cost to taxpayers, can be arranged by licensing of the over 200 leased-land communities in Delaware. With a $100 yearly fee per lot for communities with 10 or more lots, and $50 licensing fees per lot for 10 or [fewer] lots, millions can be raised. The most immediate effect of licensing would be regular inspections to help correct the multiple health and safety violations in many leased-land communities. Sadly, Delaware law does not require the communities to be maintained.

While I would expect the community owners to use many of those millions of rent dollars to fight such a proposal, they could be guaranteed their financial wellbeing. If the government could be assured low-income residents were not put in jeopardy because of unhealthy conditions, thousands of vacancies could be filled in these communities, alleviating much-needed additional affordable housing.

In the meantime, the chicanery of the landlords goes on. Among the complaints made to the attorney general, one is against the Sussex landlord who, in December, sold a home on a lot that floods when it rains. The tenant bought the home to care for her ill mother. She has to move her car when it rains because of the flooding, which ruined items she had in storage. Her dogs would drown if she let them out. The reason given by the landlord representative for selling her the home on the lot was because there is no law against it.

Then, there is the Kent County landlord who included water in his lease. He has now changed that lease, charging $15 per person for water. The original complaint to the Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association came from a grandmother raising two of her grandchildren.

Unfortunately, many people living on leased land are afraid of complaining for fear of losing their homes.

For those of you who are wondering what a non-free-enterprise business is, think of it this way: free-enterprise businesses compete for your business. You switch to any store, hairdresser, lawyer, or restaurant at no cost to you. The cost of leaving a leased-land community is significant. It is time to give Sen. Ennis’ proposal serious consideration, but will the State Legislature do so in an election year?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fred A. Neil, of Dover, is one of two Dover City Council members representing District 3.

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