City developing rental assistance program for tenants affected by COVID-19

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Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Tuesday announced that the city is developing a temporary rental assistance program for tenants who have been economically affected by COVID-19. Screengrab via Facebook Live.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Tuesday said he is prepared to commit $13 million in federal grant funds to establish a temporary rental assistance program for Baltimore City tenants.

The city is planning to provide rental assistance for April, May and June to tenants who are at or below 80 percent of the area median income, said Housing and Community Development Commissioner Michael Braverman, whom Young tasked with developing the program.

Gov. Larry Hogan in March prohibited Maryland landlords from evicting tenants during the state of emergency, and Young said he has worked with the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office to prevent evictions in Baltimore.

But Young said tenants are worried about accumulating back rent that could lead to them being evicted once the state of emergency has been lifted.

The Department of Housing and Community Development is developing the program with input from rental industry leaders, housing advocates and state partners, Young said.

Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, which provides legal assistance to tenants facing eviction, said his organization has seen a spike in calls from renters concerned about getting evicted.

“Since this crisis began, we have been inundated with calls from tenants who are unable to pay their rent,” he said. “They’ve lost their job, they have unexpected medical expenses, and they’ve told their landlord they’re unable to pay their rent and now the landlords are threatening them with eviction.”

Hill said it is important now more than ever to prevent evictions as the city and state work toward recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.

Young added that minimizing future evictions is in the interest of tenants, landlords and the city.

“In addition to the human cost of families potentially becoming homeless, the eviction, shelter and rehousing process would be a high cost for both landlords and the city,” he said. “For the city’s overall economic health, we need to prevent any potential wave of evictions caused by COVID-19 impacts.”

The city’s rent relief program will be paid for with Community Development Block Grant funds that have been allocated for coronavirus relief, Young said.

He said the city will provide rental assistance to tenants who have been economically impacted by COVID-19 and who have not received assistance from other sources.

“I expect to be presented with options for a workable program in the next few weeks,” he said.

Last night, the city council passed legislation prohibiting landlords from raising rent during the current state of emergency related to the pandemic and for three months after it is lifted.

Young has not yet said if he will sign it.

Marcus Dieterle

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