Fair housing advocates gathered outside of the State House in Annapolis on Friday night to demand that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) reinstate expired eviction protections.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down eviction protections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late August. Similar protections from Hogan ended in mid-August after Maryland’s state of emergency expired.
At the Friday night rally hosted by CASA, the largest immigrant advocacy organization in the Mid-Atlantic, progressive lawmakers, fair housing advocates and tenants said those protections need to be reinstated. Advocates slept outside of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church —across the street from the governor’s mansion — into Saturday morning to protest evictions.
Some tenants who spoke at the rally described long waits for rent relief and financial hardships during the pandemic. Cinthia Sanchez said she applied for relief funding with the help of CASA in 2020, but it took several months for that relief to arrive. She said that she and her husband both lost work as a result of the pandemic.
Javier Hurtado, a CASA member, said he also lost work as a result of the pandemic, but wasn’t able to get rent relief funding.
State and local governments in Maryland have been distributing rent relief funding at an increased pace in recent months, but fair housing advocates have long said that money isn’t getting to tenants quickly enough to prevent evictions. Of the $401 million in emergency rental assistance (ERA1) funding state and local governments in Maryland received as part of last year’s congressional Consolidated Appropriations Act, $135 million had been distributed or was in the process of being disbursed by the end of August.
There are 131,000 households behind on rent in Maryland with an estimated $429 million in total rent debt, according to the National Equity Atlas, and roughly 80% of tenants behind on rent in Maryland are people of color.
Several Maryland lawmakers also demanded Hogan reinstate eviction protections and use federal relief funding to aid tenants at the Friday rally: Del. Wanika B. Fisher (D-Prince George’s) noted that one of her bills that passed during the 2021 session, which aims to fund access to counsel for tenants in eviction cases, remains unfunded.
A separate bill that would’ve raised court fees and summary ejectment surcharges failed to pass before the end of the 2021 session. Fisher said Hogan should use federal relief funding to pay for that access to counsel. The bill to fund access to counsel wasn’t the only unsuccessful tenant protection measure of the 2021 session: Legislation from Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) would’ve extended protections for tenants for months after states of emergency, but likewise failed to pass on Sine Die.
Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) said Hogan should issue an order protecting people who apply for rental assistance from eviction or requiring landlords to accept rent relief funding.
Stewart went on to say that, if no eviction protections are put in place, the General Assembly should enact eviction protections when lawmakers return to Annapolis.
“We must have the boldest renter protections in the country this winter,” Stewart said.
Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd noted that his city and other local governments in Maryland have instituted tenant protections like barring late fees, but said local governments can’t impose their own eviction moratoriums. Byrd also said the pandemic isn’t over in Maryland as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to spread, and that evictions would worsen the spread of COVID-19.
“If we do not get a grip on this vicious crisis, that is going to lead to even more and more sickness, more and more death, and more and more pain as a result of this pandemic,” Byrd said.
Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) called allowing eviction protections to expire “immoral,” and said the General Assembly also needs to act on evictions.
“There’s work to do now and there’s work to do in the future,” he said. “Not just Governor Hogan, but the General Assembly as well, could have done something and he can still do something.”
Montgomery County Councilmember William Jawando (D) also called on Hogan to reinstate eviction protections, and also said legislative leaders should convene a special session to pass tenant protections that failed to cross the finish line during the 2021.