Federal Hill rowhouses. Photo by Alan Levine/Flickr Creative Commons.

The Maryland General Assembly appears poised to send an FY24 budget to Gov. Wes Moore’s desk that has $0 allotted for emergency rental assistance (ERA).  

Both chambers have approved the version of the budget containing no rental assistance, even though federal money for pandemic-related rental assistance is being phased out.

Renters United Maryland released a statement skewering the budget’s lack of assistance, given the number of households at risk of eviction is fast returning to pre-pandemic rates.

According to the group, emergency rental assistance from the federal government prevented 100,000 Maryland households from being evicted over the course of the pandemic. More than 108,000 households are behind on rent, and 90% of those “very likely” to be evicted in the next two months are families with children.

The group is demanding $175 million be set aside for emergency rental assistance. Acknowledging this is a large ask, given low revenue projections, they argue the return on investment is more than worth the price tag.

“Maryland would save more than two dollars for each dollar invested in emergency rental assistance, or a 2:1 return on investment. A Maryland ERA program would more than pay for itself in cost savings to the social service system…. Since 12% of evictions lead to homelessness, this means 1,208 households would avoid homelessness. The average Maryland household size is 2.6 individuals, so 3,141 individuals would avoid homelessness. And, the average social cost of each homeless individual is $35,000. So, a $50M investment would yield a total cost savings of $109M in the public services that would be needed to assist those 3,141 homeless individuals.”

The Public Justice Center is calling on Marylanders to contact their government officials to insist this initiative be funded. Federal government funds will run out in May 2023, and the center warns of “catastrophic impacts on health, educational outcomes, public safety, and community stability” if mass evictions take place. Their site provides phone numbers and a call script.

According to the center’s numbers, most of the thousands of families facing eviction are Black and Latino.

“Funding for rental assistance is about reducing systemic racial inequity and keeping Black and Latino families, disproportionately affected by housing insecurity, from being displaced,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA. “The historical and ongoing discrimination in housing, exacerbated by the pandemic, has left immigrant communities with a longer and more difficult recovery time. We still need rental assistance, now more than ever.”

Matthew Hill, an attorney with Public Justice Center, cited Oregon as an example of the impact emergency rental assistance could have.

“Oregon just allocated $200 million to emergency rental assistance for eviction prevention and has seen evictions remain at record lows,” Hill said.

He added, “Michigan, Washington State, and Washington D.C. have also allocated these funds. A financial setback does not have to become a catastrophic eviction for the families I see in eviction court every week. But it’s going to require decisive leadership from the Governor and General Assembly to change course at this point and ensure that families with children facing eviction are not left behind.”

Even Montgomery County — Maryland’s wealthiest county — is calling on Moore to provide the assistance. On March 7, the Montgomery County Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution calling on the governor and the Maryland General Assembly to allocate $175 million to help Maryland families avoid eviction.

“Higher housing costs and the looming end of assistance payments to renters could lead to a new eviction crisis,” said Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass.

Montgomery County Council’s resolution also emphasized the outsized harm inflicted on already marginalized groups.

“Of the households that avoided eviction with help from Maryland’s current emergency and rental assistance program, 70% were women-led and 74% were Black-led,” the resolution stated. “Trends in eviction demographics show that if this program ends, these families will likely be subject to eviction at much higher rates than other families.”

Housing advocates emphasize there is still time for the governor and General Assembly to revisit the lack of funding and revise the budget. The deadline for passing the FY24 budget is April 3, 2023.