The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have ordered a moratorium on evictions through the end of this year to contain the spread of COVID-19. But housing advocates say that doesn’t mean Baltimore renters won't face a mass eviction crisis.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people have already been harmed. And some people irrevocably harmed,” said Tisha Guthrie, a commissioner for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Guthrie said she saw evidence of two of her neighbors being evicted the day after the state’s moratorium on evictions expired July 31, but a full month before courts reopened to hear eviction cases on August 31.
“That was in one day from Saturday to Sunday,” Guthrie said. “All of their belongings, mattresses, everything on the street.”
Guthrie said Baltimore renters have been illegally evicted because they do not know their rights.
“Unfortunately here in Baltimore, the deck is stacked against renters,” she said. “Our rights just are violated, time and time again.”
The CDC’s moratorium on evictions took effect on Sept. 4. Guthrie said the moratorium shows that the CDC understands housing stability is a necessity for public health.
But Guthrie also said the moratorium may only be a band-aid solution because it doesn’t come with federal rental assistance. She said this could further damage the tenant-landlord relationship.
“Whenever a relationship is negatively impacted between two entities, the person who has the least power is the person who suffers the most,” she said.
Adam Skolnik is the executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, a trade group that represents property owners and landlords.
He said his members do not want to evict tenants and that it costs landlords a fortune when they do. He urged renters to talk with their landlords if they are struggling to pay rent.
“My prayer for those people who are in dire straits is communicate, communicate, communicate,” he said.
Skolnik said he isn’t sure whether there will be a mass eviction crisis, but he agrees with advocates who say the moratorium would not significantly reduce the number of evictions.
“It's just kicking the can down the road,” he said. “If there's a moratorium through Dec. 31, that doesn't mean that people are going to forgive the rent that's owed. It just means that we're going to start having this problem in January or in February or March.”
In June, Gov. Larry Hogan announced $30 million of federal CARES act funding to help prevent evictions. Skolnik said that program was a good start, but that the state should consider providing more funds.
Meanwhile, Guthrie and other housing advocates have been demanding $175 million from the state.
“Up until now, we've been getting bread crumbs. We've been getting crumbs,” she said.
Advocates had been working to stave off mass evictions with former city housing commissioner Michael Braverman before Mayor Jack Young fired him in August.
Guthrie says they are working with acting housing commissioner, Alice Kennedy, who was previously the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Homeownership and Housing Preservation. Kennedy said she was not given any notice in advance of Braverman’s firing.
She says she views her current role as temporary, but hopes to continue Braverman’s initiatives.
“I have a deep love for the city of Baltimore. I have a passion for the work that we do within the agency,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy emphasized the importance of understanding that housing is important for health - both physically and mentally.
“Mental health and trauma can be something that is impacted just by the conditions of their housing as well as having a parent or grandparent trying to figure out how to pay their utility bill,” Kennedy said.
On Sept. 2, Kennedy announced a $30 million rental assistance program that will launch in Baltimore in late September. She says renters should see if they qualify and apply because the CDC’s moratorium does not come with rental assistance.
This post has been updated to reflect the date Kennedy and Young announced the $30 million rental assistance program.