Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced that Maryland would commit $30 million to prevent renters from getting evicted, including $20 million for local governments and $10 million for a housing relief assistance program.
But immigrant advocacy organization CASA criticized Hogan for not doing more to stave off evictions.
In March, Hogan issued an order stopping landlords from evicting tenants and utility companies from shutting off services for residents during the state of emergency.
Advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, Homeless Persons Representation Project and Public Justice Center, said the governor’s order includes loopholes that have allowed landlords to continue sending tenants notices to vacate their rental units.
Advocates have urged Hogan to expand rental assistance and other services to protect people who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and may continue to face economic hardship after the state of emergency is lifted.
On Friday, Hogan said his administration is working to alleviate the debt that renters may have accrued during the pandemic with funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“Too many Marylanders have faced undue financial hardships during this unprecedented crisis, including the inability to pay their rent,” he said. “While our eviction moratorium has helped families remain in safe and stable housing through the pandemic, we are also maximizing federal resources to help as many renters as possible.”
In the nearly four months since Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus, 20 percent of residents in rental units in the state have been delinquent on rent payments, according to a news release from Hogan’s office.
The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will commit $20 million to local governments through the federal Community Development Block Grant program to prevent people from being kicked out of their homes after the state’s eviction moratorium ends.
Normally, Baltimore City and several other large jurisdictions are not eligible to apply for the grant program. But the CARES Act funding has allowed the DHCD to provide assistance to all 24 of Maryland’s jurisdictions, DHCD spokesperson Owen McEvoy said.
McEvoy said his department has already received applications for funding to support rental assistance programs in rural counties, and it anticipates it will finalize awarding funds for those applications by early July.
The state is also committing $10 million for the Assisted Housing Relief Program, which will help pay tenants’ unpaid rent directly to their landlords.
Tenants at about 9,000 of Maryland’s 45,000 state-financed rental units, or 20 percent, are currently delinquent on their rent. That adds up to approximately $3 million per month, according to the governor’s office.
Developments that are financed by DHCD through state and federal resources, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, are eligible for rental relief from the the Assisted Housing Relief Program.
McEvoy said the program will work similarly to housing voucher programs, with the DHCD working directly with property management companies and landlords to pay off back rent for renters who are behind on their payments due to COVID-19.
The Assisted Housing Relief Program will begin providing relief by the end of July, McEvoy added.
But advocates said that Hogan has not gone far enough to prevent people from being evicted.
CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres said that the $30 million is just a fraction of the $153 million in federal relief funds advocates have called for to commit to rental assistance.
Torres said Hogan has not implemented “common sense” solutions, such as prohibiting landlords from issuing late fees, collecting debt, increasing rent and terminating leases during the state of emergency.
Maryland’s court system has said it will begin hearing cases regarding foreclosures and evictions on July 25.
Torres said Hogan needs to expand the moratorium to cover all types of eviction cases and extend it past its July 25 expiration to allow families to recover from financial loss due to the coronavirus.
“[I]n less than 30 days, families will be thrown to the streets when the eviction freeze is lifted and mass evictions ensue,” he said in a statement.
CASA member Beatriz Fuentes, a renter in Owings Mills, said she lost her job after getting sick with COVID-19 and had to borrow money to pay her rent. Now, she worries that her family will be kicked out of their home.
“I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent next month and am worried that my family could be evicted if the Governor doesn’t extend the moratorium,” Fuentes said in a statement.
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