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City Council Holds Hearing On Eviction Crisis

Tisha Edwards, Director of the Mayor's Office of Children and Family Success, addressing a city council committee Tuesday. Credit: Screenshot/Webex
Tisha Edwards, Director of the Mayor's Office of Children and Family Success, addressing a city council committee Tuesday. Credit: Screenshot/Webex

A Baltimore City Council committee heard from housing advocates and officials Tuesday to discuss the scope of the city’s eviction crisis and strategies to overcome it.

Tisha Edwards, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, said that just before the pandemic -- in March of 2020 -- one in 10 city residents were already behind on rent.

Since then, those numbers have gone up. By April that year, one in five residents were behind, she said. Two months later, that number was one in three.

By October, more than 11,000 households were in arrears and that number more than doubled by March of this year.

“This has been a challenge that we’ve been trying to work through for more than a year,” she said.

In total, more than $37 million have gone into eviction prevention assistance. Those funds come from a combination of federal, state and local allocations.

“I think that we’ve made some progress,” Edwards said. “But unfortunately the demand and the need continues to grow.”

She spoke to some challenges with using the funds. There’s more flexibility, for example, for who qualifies for federal funds, compared to state funds.

Edwards anticipates that before the end of this calendar year, Baltimore will receive about $24 million in state funds for eviction prevention, and just over $23 million in federal funds.

She also discussed future strategies, including security deposit funding, and more proactive communication with tenants and landlords on application status for rental assistance.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos called the informational hearing for the Economic and Community Development Committee.

“We've always had housing insecurity in our city where rents are just way too high, where people can't afford it,” Ramos said.

Kathy Howard, of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, a trade group that represents property owners and landlords, said landlords want to help tenants get rental assistance, but that they can’t help tenants who don’t communicate with them.

“There's an awful lot of our tenant base who we've contacted, but who do not get back in touch with either the program or with us,” she said.

Matt Hill, an attorney from the Public Justice Center, called for urgent action from the city, saying it has been allocated enough federal funds to “make a dent” in the crisis.

“The question is, can we expedite the funding to align, and act quickly and effectively to prevent the eviction crisis as it's happening?” Hill said.

The CDC’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of July. The Hogan administration’s moratorium expires Aug. 15.

April Ferguson, a clinical social worker at Healthcare for the Homeless, said she has clients who have been evicted and have been homeless. She spoke of the mental burden they carry from these experiences.

Moreover, the loss of a physical home means the loss of an address.

“It's been very difficult to assist clients with things like jobs, applying for benefits when they don't have a stable address,” Ferguson said.

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton read a letter from Dr. Zackary Berger, a primary care physician who works at Johns Hopkins and the Esperanza Center’s health clinic.

Berger wrote that he has patients who are undocumented immigrants and tell him their stories of housing insecurity every day .

“‘Out of work, out of money, people wait for the lawyers from the bank and threatening phone calls,’” Middleton read.

In the letter, Berger noted one patient in particular, who is on dialysis. Since the start of the pandemic he has been living in an abandoned house.

“‘Luckily, the water and electricity still work,’” Middleton read. “‘And he can store his medications, including insulin with some degree of safety.’”

Berger wrote that the patient told him in a recent appointment that he was going to get evicted the next day. Berger wondered: where will his patient sleep? Where will he store his insulin?

“‘Among the many moral tragedies and unacceptable failures of the pandemic in the United States, including Baltimore and Maryland, have been too many stories like this one,’” she read.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.