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Baltimore Tenants Demand New State Eviction Protections

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Housing advocates and tenants in front of Baltimore City Hall Wednesday. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Baltimore City housing advocates and tenants are demanding that Gov. Larry Hogan extend his order to protect tenants affected by the pandemic from eviction. That order is set to last through Sunday.

Housing advocates rallied in front of City Hall chanting, “No more evictions! No more evictions

Caitlin Goldblatt, a tenant from Baltimore Renters United, says that extending the state eviction order would be a life-saving public health measure.

For more than a year, it has protected tenants who were able to prove that they couldn’t pay rent because of the pandemic, she said.

“Lifting what limited protections exist during the surging Delta variant public health emergency will only exacerbate this ongoing public health crisis,” she said.

Hogan has not announced any new measures to halt evictions since the CDC announced a new temporary ban on evictions in counties with substantial or high transmission.

The CDC ban is set to expire in October and now applies to the vast majority of Maryland counties, including Baltimore City. But protections no longer apply to counties when their transmission rates fall to moderate or lower for 14 consecutive days.

Zafar Shah, an attorney from the Public Justice Center, said the CDC order alone would not pause eviction cases. He called on the governor to issue a “clear mandate.”

“I was just in court right now, and my client hadn't even learned about the CDC order until the minute I told her about it in the hallway today,” Shah said.

He added that the judge proceeded with her eviction case anyway because she hadn’t done the necessary paperwork. Shah’s client had also applied for rental assistance.

“The judge said ‘I can't help her. I know it's the law to keep people in their home until October 3, but I'm not going to allow her to do the paperwork,’” Shah said.

Carisa Hatfield, an attorney with the Homeless Persons Representation Project, came to the rally straight from rent court and was prepared to go back that afternoon.

“People are being evicted today, they will be evicted tomorrow, and those numbers will continue to grow unless our state and local governments do something,” she said.

Hatfield said she has clients who have applied for rental assistance but haven’t received any aid.

Renters like Ana Vallez say they are worried they will be evicted if they aren’t able to get their rental assistance soon.

Vallez says she has applied for rental assistance several times. She used to be a construction worker, but she says she had knee problems and her supervisor fired her after seeing her taking a break during work

While trying to find a new job, she was diagnosed with cancer.

Vallez, speaking through a translator from CASA, said her landlord is now threatening to evict her.

“Please, Governor Hogan, we need more time,” she said. “It is not just the immigrant community. It is all communities who are facing this and who need support and who need more time.”

Maryland has received $401 million so far in federal funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, also known as ERAP.

A spokesperson for the state housing department estimates 20% of those funds were spent by the end of July, and that the state is on track to use at least 65% by the end of September. The state also is set to receive an additional $352 million in ERAP funds.

She added that the state also has distributed $58.7 million for rental assistance from other fund sources prior to ERAP.

Terrel Askew, an organizer for United Workers and member of Baltimore Renters United, said people’s lives are on the line, and that accelerating the disbursement of rental assistance funds is key.

“We need more time to prevent a completely preventable eviction crisis. We look forward to the mayor implementing his promise to move the money faster. And we request a detailed plan to implement his promise with clear benchmarks,” Askew said.

According to Tisha Edwards from the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, the city has $80 million in federal ERAP and state funds.

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.