The Urgent Need for Right to Representation: ACLU Panel Discusses the Housing Crisis at Lewes Library Event
LEWES, DE—Safe, secure housing as a fundamental human right was the main topic of discussion at a panel event featuring national and local ACLU leaders at the Lewes Public Library on Thursday evening.
“Eviction proceedings, where most landlords are represented and renters are not, create a massive imbalance of power,” said Ian Thompson, senior legislative advocate for ACLU National. “That imbalance almost always yields the same result: people displaced from their homes without consideration of need, due process, or the facts pertaining to a specific case.”
Shelter is one of our most basic human needs, so housing is an issue affecting every person — but the impact of housing insecurity and the far-reaching effects of evictions impact some communities much more than others. Sandra Park, senior attorney for the ACLU National Women’s Rights Project, spoke about how Black and brown communities, especially Black and brown women, experience the housing crisis. “Nationally, communities of color and women — especially Black women and children — disproportionately face the threat of eviction. On average, Black renters have evictions filed against them at nearly twice the rate of white renters. By failing to address evictions, we miss an opportunity to begin to address longstanding systemic income and wealth inequities that lock out families from good neighborhoods, schools, and jobs.”
Park and Thompson were joined by Javonne Rich, advocacy and policy director for ACLU of Delaware. The panel was moderated by Mike Brickner, executive director of ACLU of Delaware.
On a local level, Rich and Brickner discussed their work with Park and Thompson, combined with local community partners like the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society and the H.O.M.E.S. campaign, to protect renters’ rights over the past two years. Their primary focus, SB 101, was a bill that would have guaranteed a statewide right to representation for low-income renters, but it ultimately failed in the final hour of this year’s legislative session amid major pushback from high-power landlords and their allies in the General Assembly.
Rich noted the fight wasn’t over yet, though. “Delaware’s eviction filing rate is four times the national average — and when it comes to fighting those eviction filings, the power is stacked in favor of the landlords,” she said. “Ensuring a right to representation for renters’ is a common-sense move that can allow us to begin to level that playing field. With a growing housing crisis, and evictions skyrocketing, this effort is a vital piece of the puzzle. It’s incredibly important we don’t let this fight go.”
The panelists discussed ways folks can get involved in supporting a renters’ right to representation, spotlighting the upcoming elections as a key moment for action.
“Delawareans can support renters’ rights by finding out where your candidates stand on these issues and electing the ones who are committed to protecting renters and ending Delaware’s eviction and housing crisis,” said Brickner. “The Primary Election on Tuesday, September 13 is an important one: get in touch with your candidates before then, find out where they stand, and then vote to protect renters when you cast your ballot.”
The event was held in-person and was also streamed online via Zoom.
The ACLU of Delaware works to preserve and advance civil liberties and civil rights in the State of Delaware as enshrined in the United States and Delaware Constitutions through education and advocacy without consideration of political association. Learn more at aclu-de.org.
The ACLU works to support right to counsel in eviction cases nationally. In May 2022, the ACLU and the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel published No Eviction Without Representation: Evictions’ Disproportionate Harms and the Promise of Right to Counsel, a research brief documenting the harms of evictions and the benefits of right to counsel programs.
The Lewes Public Library anticipates the needs of the community and adapts, creates, and supports classes and programs for all ages that encourage a love of reading, exploration, and discovery. It provides access to a wide variety of educational, informational, and recreational materials to all members of the community through traditional resources and emerging technologies. For additional information, visit lewes.lib.de.us.