Baltimore County to use an additional $3 million to prevent evictions

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The Baltimore County Courthouse. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikipedia.

Baltimore County has allocated an additional $1 million in rental assistance for tenants who have lost income due to COVID-19, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced on Monday.

The county will also contribute $2 million in grant money to community-based organizations that are addressing homelessness and eviction.

The $3 million comes from federal relief funds.

“Families across Baltimore County are facing significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic, and it’s critical that we help as many of those families as we can,” Olszewski said in a statement. “These additional funds will help more families avoid homelessness and provide a bridge while they get back on their feet. We will continue to identify ways to provide resources that help our families weather this storm.”

County officials said there was a “significant response” from residents who applied for rental assistance during phase one of Baltimore County’s Eviction Prevention Program. In June, the county began distributing $1 million to applicants.

With the additional $1 million announced on Monday, the county hopes to provide rental assistance to more than 800 households that are at risk of being kicked out of their homes once the state’s eviction moratorium ends.

The new funds will support families who have already applied for the Eviction Prevention Program, county officials said.

The county has already paid out $420,896 to approved households, a county spokesman said.

Under phase two of eviction prevention efforts, the county is committing $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, which they will give to nonprofits and government organizations to prevent homelessness and evictions.

The county’s website explains that some of the uses for the grant money include security deposits and one-time or short-term subsistence payments of no more than three months.

Supplied by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Block Grant program funds local efforts to supply affordable housing, expand economic opportunities and extend other services.

The grant money cannot be give directly to individuals and families in need, but it can be used to pay for items and services that those people need, such as food, clothing, housing and utilities, according to HUD.

Baltimore County sent out a request for proposals from nonprofit and government organizations to apply for the grants. The county will announce which organizations were selected later this month, the county spokesman said.

The county has also partnered with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s Fair Housing Action Center to provide financial counseling, advice on negotiating with landlords, referrals to legal assistance and other support services, and renters’ tax credit applications and assistance.

In March, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered landlords not to evict tenants and for utility companies not to shut off services or charge late fees for residential customers during the state of emergency.

But advocates said the state needed to do more to help Marylanders who had lost their income due to COVID-19 and who still may not be able to pay their rent after the eviction moratorium has been lifted.

A coalition of organizations in May called on the state to partner with local jurisdictions and use $153 million in relief funds to provide rental assistance to families in need.

At the end of June, Hogan announced that Maryland was committing $30 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to prevent evictions.

Those funds included $20 million for local governments through the federal Community Development Block Grant program. The state also allocated $10 million for the Assisted Housing Relief Program to pay landlords directly for tenants’ unpaid rent.

With the state money falling short of what activists called for, and Hogan’s eviction moratorium set to expire on July 25, advocates with CASA de Maryland, Maryland Public Justice Center and other groups rallied outside the District Court in downtown earlier this month to call for further actions.

The groups said the state should extend the eviction moratorium for one year after the state of emergency for the pandemic is lifted, provide more rent relief, and prohibit late fees and debt collection, among other actions.

Marcus Dieterle

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