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Renter Advocates Demand Action On Eviction Protection Bills

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Maryland housing advocates and renters are mounting pressure on the General Assembly to pass legislation that would protect renters from evictions.

State lawmakers have not completed work on several bills that would help vulnerable renters stay in their homes, including a COVID-19 Housing and Eviction Relief Act that has not been voted on in the Senate.

Now, as the end of this year’s legislative session draws near, advocates are frustrated with what they see as a lack of urgency from lawmakers.

The House of Delegates recently passed a bill that would guarantee lawyers for low-income renters facing eviction. Weeks ago, the House approved a watered down version of the COVID-19 Housing and Eviction Relief Act.

Renters United Maryland, a statewide coalition of advocates, organized a press conference Thursday.

Zafar Shah from the Public Justice Center said ongoing eviction moratoriums and federal aid have not been enough to protect renters, and that mass evictions remain a looming threat.

“Policymakers have convinced themselves of the very opposite prospect. They think that federal stimulus money, and emergency rental assistance will have solved the massive housing displacement that is looming, without any legislative intervention,” Shah said.

In Baltimore City alone, Shah said there were more than 200 court-ordered evictions in January and February, and more than 3,000 court-ordered evictions across Maryland since August.

“Nearly four in 10 Maryland households are behind on rent, and report that they are very likely or somewhat likely to leave their home due to eviction in the next two months,” he said. “And notably, that figure is 55% for Black households.”

He also noted a common method that landlords have used during the moratorium to evict tenants by taking legal action against those whose leases have expired, without offering them the opportunity to renew their leases.

“There is no defense to this type of eviction,” Shah said. “Not one single emergency protection against lease non renewal, which makes this type of eviction attractive right now for landlords who want to remove their tenants amid the pandemic.”

Tisha Guthrie, a steering committee member of Baltimore Renters United, said her frustration cannot be overstated.

“Far too many hardworking Maryland residents, your constituents, due to no fault of their own, are presently under or unemployed, and are experiencing financial devastation,” she said. “Many residents are still awaiting unemployment payments.”

Guthrie urged legislators to help renters meet basic needs.

“Every day I wake up in an apartment building where at least 20 people have been carted out of here and have died due to a pandemic,” she said. “They've died because the buildings they live in, this building is dirty, is ill maintained. But yet this building, the people who own this building and manage it, they’re continuing to profit from federal funds. And this is unconscionable. So it is now to take action.”

Guthrie said her situation represents what tenants behind on rent are experiencing across the state.

“If we don't stand up now and do something to take care of those we call first responders, frontline workers, and our brothers and sisters, then we are no good,” she said.

Myshonia Camphor, a renter from Montgomery County, is a healthcare worker at a nursing home and is a mother of three.

Her husband, who worked as a truck driver, had to work fewer hours when the pandemic hit. Shortly after, he had a heart attack and could no longer work.

Now they’re behind on rent and she’s facing the possibility of eviction when her lease expires.

“I’m just hoping and praying that we all get the help that we need, and someone is listening to our voices to keep us in our homes,” Camphor said. “For the sake of our families, our health.”