“Cancel the Rent” Calls Grow Louder as End of Eviction Hold Threatens to Put Thousands on Streets

Advocates gather outside the District Court House in Baltimore City on July 1 to demand rent relief. Photo courtesy of CASA.

Advocates are calling on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to “cancel the rent” as thousands of Marylanders face eviction later this month.

More than 150,000 renters in Maryland have lost their income during the pandemic and could lose their homes when a federal moratorium on evictions expires on July 25, Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the Regional Director for CASA Baltimore, said at a Wednesday afternoon event outside the District Court House in Baltimore.

About 50 people from advocacy organizations attended to press Hogan for more help.

The coronavirus pandemic led to mass business shutdowns and layoffs as many state governments scrambled to contain the spread of the disease. Walther-Rodriguez said people of color have been hit the hardest by that loss of income.

“The majority of those renters who have been hit the hardest are in black and brown communities in Maryland,” Walther-Rodriguez said.

She and other advocates said Hogan’s $30 million in rent relief and the rent relief programs set up by counties across the state aren’t enough to stop the potential flood of eviction filings later this month.

Walther-Rodriguez and other advocates demanded more aid from Hogan as the end of the federal moratorium looms, including more funding for rent relief programs and an extension and expansion of the moratorium in Maryland.

Hogan issued an executive order in March to prevent certain evictions as long as Maryland is in a state of emergency. Although the state of emergency is still active, advocates say the executive order has a loophole, because it requires tenants to prove economic hardship due to COVID-19 to avoid eviction.

“We must cancel the rent,” Rev. Kobi Little of the Baltimore NAACP said. “Recovery should not take place on the backs of vulnerable people.”

Losing housing is difficult during any circumstances, but losing it during a pandemic could be catastrophic, said Gwen DuBois, an internist and the president of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“Housing is health,” DuBois said. “Human rights and good public health policy are intimately related.”

The rally in Baltimore came days after local officials told state lawmakers that they need help to avert a housing crisis.

Some 20,000 renters in Montgomery County may face eviction when the moratorium ends, County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) told lawmakers during a Monday House Environment and Transportation Committee virtual meeting on Monday.

 “We’re facing a tsunami of potential evictions,” Elrich said.

At a Baltimore City Council meeting June 22, Councilman Bill Henry said more than 50,000 Baltimore residents risk eviction when the moratorium expires.

Local officials and advocates for both landlords and renters have asked Hogan to provide an additional $150 million in funding toward rent relief in the state.  They say it may be the only way to avoid mass evictions later this month.

The housing crisis isn’t a new one, Carol Ott, the tenant advocacy director for Fair Action Housing Center of Maryland, previously said. She said the evictions could shed a new light on systemic racism.

 “This is not a new problem,” Ott said. “We’re just seeing it in a very raw, new way.”

[email protected]