Hogan Opens Rent Relief Program as Protesters in Annapolis Demand More

"Cancel the rent" protesters marching down Rowe Boulevard toward the State House and governor's mansion in Annapolis Friday. Photo by Bennett Leckrone

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) opened applications Friday for $10 million in relief funding for Marylanders living in state-financed rental units.

The state’s “Assisted Housing Relief Program” will offer four-month rent rebate vouchers for residents living in rental units in multifamily projects financed by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development using state funds or federal resources, according to a news release.

“Our administration will continue to do everything we can to help Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet, and recover,” Hogan said in the release.

With a federal moratorium on evictions set to end on Saturday, some 292,000 Marylanders who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic are at risk of eviction. Recent estimates show that Maryland could see more than 190,000 eviction filings over the next four months.

The money is part of Hogan’s previously announced $30 million in rental relief and eviction assistance. The governor hopes the funding will help Marylanders afford their rent in the midst of pandemic-related job losses, but advocates say it will do little to prevent a flood of evictions once the moratorium expires.

In a Friday afternoon letter, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) called on Maryland’s top judges to extend their own moratorium on evictions into 2021. He wrote that Marylanders haven’t had time to recover from coronavirus-related financial losses, and said Hogan’s $30 million won’t be enough to make a meaningful difference for tenants.

“While the Hogan Administration has allocated $30 million for rental assistance, it is widely believed that this amount is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of Maryland tenants at risk of eviction,” Frosh wrote in the letter to Mary Ellen Barbera, the chief judge of Maryland’s Court of Appeals, and John P. Morrissey, the chief judge of the state’s District Court.

The state’s District Court has said it will begin processing warrants of restitution for failure to repay rent cases after July 25, and will begin hearing failure to pay rent cases on Aug. 31. Frosh said Maryland’s tenants need more time to recover.

“Even with the delay in re-commencing ‘failure to pay rent’ cases and extension of the moratorium on federally-funded housing evictions until the end of August, it is unlikely that the current hardships of the crisis will have improved by then, little more than a month from now,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers and fair housing advocates gathered outside Hogan’s residence in Annapolis Friday to demand the governor “cancel the rent.” They want Hogan to extend and expand his moratorium, and provide more than $150 million in additional rental relief for Marylanders.

They say Hogan’s $30 million, coupled with already overwhelmed county rental relief programs, won’t be enough to offset a slew of evictions when the federal moratorium ends on Saturday.

“It’s unconscionable to let thousands and thousands of people end up on the street,” the Rev. Kobi Little of the Baltimore NAACP said at the rally, which was organized by CASA, an immigrants’ advocacy group.

Advocates have also raised red flags over Hogan’s current eviction moratorium. They say the governor’s executive order, which requires tenants to prove their financial hardship was caused by COVID-19 to avoid eviction, has loopholes. Hogan’s current order is set to remain in effect as long as Maryland is under a state of emergency.

Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) reiterated his calls for a special legislative session at the rally, and accused Hogan of being more concerned with his forthcoming autobiography than Marylanders at risk of eviction.

“We have a governor who’s worried about selling books and running for president,” Ivey said.

Maryland’s courts may soon be overwhelmed by the number of filings, said Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, a non-profit legal aid center that advocates for and represents low-income clients in civil cases.

“I don’t understand how, with adequate social distancing measures and safety measures, Maryland courts could possibly be equipped to handle this,” Hill previously warned. “There’s been no guidance from the judiciary on when and how remote proceedings will be conducted. We have a lot of concerns around due process.”

People of color have been disproportionately affected by the loss of income brought on by the pandemic and many are at risk of eviction, Lydia Walther-Rodriguez, the Regional Director for CASA Baltimore, said at a rally earlier this month.

Calls for extending eviction moratoriums have reached the national stage: U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged lawmakers to extend the federal moratorium on evictions during a news conference earlier week.

“This is a potential catastrophe,” said Schumer, the Senate minority leader.

State officials previously indicated that they’re looking for additional federal funding for rental relief.

“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,” Deputy Secretary of Budget and Management Mark Nicole told lawmakers during a virtual House Appropriations Committee briefing earlier this month. “That $30 million all of a sudden could become $120 [million].”

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