As tenants across the state lost their jobs and struggled to pay rent when the COVID-19 pandemic set in in March. Gov. Larry Hogan issued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
But housing advocates warn that Baltimore City will face a wave of evictions when the moratorium expires on July 25.
Carolina Paul, a paralegal at the Public Justice Center, said at a virtual news conference Thursday that once the moratorium expires, the evictions will start with cases already in the pipeline, but then “the dam will really break.”
She was joined by city leaders, Baltimore residents and housing advocates calling on Hogan to extend the moratorium and to set aside at least $175 million for rent relief from the $1.3 billion left in Maryland’s federal Coronavirus Relief fund.
“We do not see any sort of statewide plan from Governor Hogan when the state has received 1.3 billion dollars in federal coronavirus assistance,” she said. “We do not see a plan on using any of that money to address a looming eviction crisis.”
The fund was established under the federal CARES act. Baltimore City has received a little over $13 million in federal assistance, but the city will need three times that amount to avert mass evictions.
Hogan announced Friday he was adding an additional $30 million in funding to help prevent evictions, but it’s not as much as housing advocates are calling for.
Chantel Outlaw, a mother of two, said she had no trouble paying rent before the city went under lockdown, but she lost her job and is three months behind in her rent. She is still waiting on unemployment benefits she applied for in April. She received a stimulus check, but it did little to help.
“Recently I had my landlord asking me for my rent, asking me when I’m gonna have it, when I’m gonna have it. I’m like, okay, do you realize we’re in a crisis right now? What do you want me to do?” she said. “It’s been a nightmare.”
Like Outlaw, Equinthia Tyson has not yet received unemployment benefits. She and her husband both lost their jobs in March.
“It cost me and my family to be without for months. I was unable to sit there and even take care of my household and had no food. Not only that, I couldn’t even pay my rent,” Tyson said. “The landlord is not even trying to hear me now.”
She said the hot water heater in her home broke down a few weeks ago but her landlord refused to fix it because she couldn’t pay her rent.
Tyson eventually called the city Department of Housing, and the landlord reluctantly fixed her hot water heater. The next day he gave them a notice to move out of the house in 30 days.
Gaby Roque, a community organizer with CASA de Maryland, translated for Reina Medrano.
“We’ve tried to make it clear to Larry Hogan before that we need him to take action before and not to wait until there’s a housing crisis,” Medrano said.
Medrano’s husband is only able to work three days a week at a cleaning company. To help pay her family’s bills, Medrano has been selling her belongings. She has also had some support from friends and CASA, an advocacy group. But even if her husband worked every day of the month, Medrano said they would not be able to catch up.
“Governor Hogan, even if you don’t want to hear us or see us, this is a problem and we need your help. Please don’t forget about us,” she said. “Don’t forget about our families or our communities.”
Roque also translated for resident Griselda Romero. Romero, who does not have citizenship but has four daughters with U.S. citizenship, could not count on unemployment benefits or stimulus checks. She went back to work on Monday but can only work part-time.
“The administrator at the apartment complex where I live is harassing me everyday, sending me messages, asking me when I’m going to be able to pay my rent,” Romero said. “It only adds to my stress and worry.”
Romero was also recently hospitalized but does not have health insurance and now has a medical bill she cannot pay. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said she was able to make the money she needed.
“This is the first time I’m asking the governor to help us,” she said. “All I’m asking is that the governor give us a little bit more time to get back on our feet.”
Affordable Housing Trust Fund Commissioner Tisha Guthrie said that mass evictions are a public health crisis and that the state has the time and resources to stop it.
“We are calling on Governor Hogan to utilize these funds in a responsible manner. The funds belong to the citizens, the residents of Maryland. The residents of Maryland are hurting,” Guthrie said. “This call is a moral call.”