State Lawmakers Want Md. to Extend Moratorium on Evictions

House Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery)

State lawmakers want to extend Maryland’s moratorium on evictions through January of 2021 as a potential “tsunami of evictions” looms later this month.

Maryland’s current stay on certain evictions won’t be enough to help many of those facing evictions, Dels. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and Dana M. Stein (D-Baltimore County), the chair and vice chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, wrote in a letter this week to Maryland Secretary of Housing and Community Development Kenneth C. Holt.

Barve and Stein say Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) should extend the state’s current moratorium, which prevents certain evictions so long as tenants can demonstrate hardship due to COVID-19. Hogan’s moratorium is set to expire when Maryland’s state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency end.

“The uncertainty surrounding the proliferation of this virus and the need to keep individuals housed for their health and safety suggest a longer limitation on evictions is needed,” the pair wrote.

An extension until the end of January in 2021 would allow the job market to recover from the devastating losses it suffered as a result of coronavirus-related shutdowns. The lawmakers say it would also give the state time to avert mass evictions.

Advocates including the ACLU of Maryland,  the Homeless Persons Representation Project, and the Public Justice Center previously raised a red flag over Hogan’s moratorium. The groups said in early May that the governor’s stay on certain evictions has loopholes, since it requires tenants to prove their economic hardship was caused by COVID-19.

Del. Dana M. Stein (D-Baltimore County)

Stein and Barve also wrote that the $30 million that Hogan has put toward rental relief won’t be enough to stop thousands of Marylanders from losing their homes when a federal moratorium on evictions expires on July 25.

Advocates previously estimated that up to 150,000 Marylanders who lost income during the coronavirus pandemic are at risk of losing their homes. Advocates and lawmakers have called for more than $150 million toward rental relief in recent weeks as eviction filings are set to resume in Maryland courts.

The state already designated $30 million for  rental relief. That includes $20 million toward eviction prevention. State officials previously said they’re looking into whether additional federal funding is available to help Marylanders avoid evictions, Deputy Secretary of Budget and Management Mark Nicole told lawmakers during a Wednesday evening House Appropriations Committee briefing.

“We are following with [the Maryland Emergency Management Agency] at the state level and FEMA at the federal level to see if eviction assistance qualifies as an eligible expense under disaster relief,” Nicole told lawmakers. “That $30 million all of a sudden could become $120 [million].”

Eviction and foreclosure moratoriums for single-family homes from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have already been extended until Aug. 31, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency website.

The letter from Barve and Stein came after local officials told state lawmakers in a late June meeting that they couldn’t handle the oncoming flood of evictions on their own. While many jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Montgomery County, have designated money toward rental relief programs, they have quickly been overwhelmed with applications.

“In Phase 1 of Baltimore County’s COVID–19 Eviction Prevention Program, it was estimated that $1 million would help approximately 300 households,” Barve and Stein wrote. “However, the program received 1,500 applications totaling over $6 million in requests for assistance.”

Barve and Stein express concerns over how Maryland’s current $30 million in rental relief money will be spent.

“While awarding the funds directly to large rental managers may be the most efficient method, we have significant concerns that some of those funds will not end up providing renters with relief,” the lawmakers wrote. “We cannot afford to waste a single dollar of taxpayer funding in this crisis.”

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