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Democratic Gov. Candidates Share Housing Plans

Six of nine Democratic gubernatorial candidates answered questions from a panel of reporters from the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Matters and The Washington Post Tuesday evening. Credit: myMCMedia Livestream

Six of nine Democratic primary candidates for Maryland's governor agreed Tuesday that immediate action is necessary to protect renters as the pandemic wears on. They took aim at Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is term-limited and won’t be on the ballot.

In a forum hosted by the Montgomery County Renters Alliance and devoted entirely to housing issues, former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler was among those who said Hogan has been ineffectual.

“The ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of this administration cannot be overstated,” Gansler said.

Wes Moore, an activist from Baltimore City and former host of WYPR’s Future City, said that Hogan’s successor must lift up the work local jurisdictions are already doing for housing.

“It's not that Governor Hogan does not understand government. He’s choosing not to act,” Moore said. “This is a choice.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez lamented the state’s slow use of $401 million in federal funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The latest state data shows that just 15% of that money has gone to renters.

“Gov. Hogan with a stroke of a pen...he can take the money that is existing now and use a portion of it to guarantee a right to counsel and eviction proceedings,” Perez said.

Perez was referring to a law the General Assembly passed this year to guarantee tenants legal representation in rent court. But that law is not yet backed by state funding.

John King Jr., who was secretary of education for former President Barack Obama, echoed Perez.

He also expressed support for bills that state lawmakers put forward and failed to pass previously, such as one that would require landlords to provide a specific reason for evicting tenants. King also called for raising the fee for filing eviction notices.

“If we understand housing to be a human right, then we have to change our policies,” he said.

But Comptroller Peter Franchot said that ultimately, the governor cannot wait for legislators to solve the state’s most pressing housing issues. The situation Maryland renters are facing, he said, is too urgent.

“Rather than throwing our hands up in the air and saying well let's go into the next session...these hundreds, hundreds of 1000s of low wage earners who are facing eviction could care less about what the legislature is doing and what might be done down the road,” he said.

Franchot said he has asked the governor to reinstate the emergency eviction moratorium, saying that we have all the federal aid we need to make landlords whole.

Candidates agreed that the next governor would have to prioritize reversing decades of redlining and set long term solutions in motion.

Ashwani Jain, a former Obama administration official, outlined what he called a “comprehensive” three part plan: increasing housing affordability, availability, and sustainability.

Jain also expressed his support for a statewide rent stabilization law.

“Rent control is really important in terms of providing people a sustainable way of paying their bills, knowing what bills are going to come up,” Jain said. “The only exception is we can only do that if we're not raising property taxes.”

In the meantime, Tom Perez said that renters are facing a preventable eviction crisis, and that a wave of evictions is not inevitable.

“I can't control Larry Hogan now,” Perez said. “We've all discussed what he hasn't done. But I refuse to believe that we just have to throw up our arms and just accept that that's what it is. I don't buy that.”

Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, another gubernatorial candidate, was unable to attend Tuesday’s forum due to the passing of his wife last week.

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.