Anne Arundel County is ramping up its efforts to stave off evictions, County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said Tuesday.
The county has recently increased outreach to landlords, more than doubled the amount of Community Legal Services staff available to consult with tenants and set up office space next to the District Court in Glen Burnie to help tenants get representation, Pittman said.
Fair housing advocates have encouraged tenants throughout the pandemic to head to court when faced with an eviction case, but the majority of those tenants lack lawyers. A study of eviction cases in Baltimore by the Chicago-based consulting firm Stout found that while 96% of landlords have legal representation during eviction cases there, just 1% of tenants do.
Pittman said Community Legal Services (CLS), a nonprofit legal service provider that partnered with Anne Arundel County to represent tenants in court, has been largely successful at preventing evictions. Of the 89 cases that went to court with CLS representation since the county started the program, all tenants avoided eviction.
In one instance attorneys found “major deficiencies” in a bulk eviction filing from a landlord in Anne Arundel County and were able to get 160 eviction filings dismissed before tenants had to go to court, said Kathleen Hughes, an attorney with CLS.
Legal representation for tenants facing eviction has been a key issue since the onset of the pandemic, particularly since both state and federal orders allow tenants to delay failure-to-pay rent cases by showing a substantial pandemic-related income loss.
The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would have funded legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction. But lawmakers failed to pass a separate measure that would’ve raised court filing fees to fund the program.
Anne Arundel County also stepped up efforts to coordinate with the courts and connect tenants who are facing eviction to Arundel Community Development Services (ACDS). ACDS is the county-run nonprofit in charge of rent relief and eviction prevention efforts. Pittman said ACDS can connect tenants with both rent relief and legal representation.
“Please, please stay in your apartment,” Pittman said. “Once you leave you can no longer get the assistance. And if you’re asked to appear in court, please do.”
ACDS executive director Kathleen M. Koch said that recently there has been an uptick in filings for rental assistance as well as an increase in eviction filings in the county. She noted that the county has millions in federal rental assistance available, but that processing applications before people are evicted could be a challenge.
“We have enough funds to help everybody who is eligible,” Koch said. “We just need time to be able to get to everybody.”
U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) called on Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to “immediately” distribute eviction relief funding to tenants and landlords. While state-level eviction protections remain in place until Aug. 15, Brown is also among federal lawmakers calling for nationwide protections, which expired last week, to be reinstated.
“There’s nothing more important to the stability and wellbeing of families than a roof over their heads and the peace of mind that they will be able to stay in their home,” Brown said in a Tuesday statement.
Koch said the Anne Arundel County is also joining the United Way of Central Maryland’s Strategic Targeted Eviction Prevention (STEP) program, which allows landlords to submit bulk applications for rental assistance on behalf of eligible tenants. She said ACDS has been working with the Maryland Multi-Housing Association to reach landlords, and is working with them to ensure that they do not evict tenants for up to 90 days after either the landlord or tenant receives rental assistance.
Tenants and landlords alike have urged quick distribution of federal rent relief, but the process has been slow.
Some local leaders, including Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D), have said that federal eligibility and application requirements are overly cumbersome for tenants looking to apply for relief.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D), on the other hand, said that some local programs simply aren’t being run with enough urgency.
“They’re used to operating small operations outside of crises,” Rosapepe said, referring to local housing officials.
President Joe Biden (D) urged local governments to distribute rent relief funding as fast as possible in a statement last week.
“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” Biden said. “Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday issued limited, more targeted protections for tenants that will last for 60 days. That order could be subject to legal challenges because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Congress would have to authorize any further extension.
Aaron Greenfield, director of government affairs for the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, said in a statement Monday that it is “imperative that local governments efficiently disburse this rental relief to ensure a robust and healthy housing industry for housing providers and residents alike.”
Pittman and other local leaders, alongside a coalition of fair housing advocates, previously asked Hogan to institute a 90-120 day moratorium on evictions, but no such order was instituted. Pittman said he was “frustrated” that lawmakers didn’t extend the moratorium before they recessed, but said local eviction prevention programs will be key in preventing evictions.
According to the National Equity Atlas, there are an estimated 129,000 households behind on rent in Maryland. Roughly 78% of those households include people of color, according to the analysis, and 62% make less than $50,000 a year.