BALTIMORE — There are no longer state or federal protections preventing evictions of tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Maryland, eviction protections expired on August 15, and last week, the Supreme Court overturned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ban on evictions in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.
Rental assistance funds can help keep people in their homes, and landlords afloat, however, only 15 percent of federal funds have been distributed in Maryland, according to a state data dashboard.
Deborah Stokes, a property manager in Baltimore City, said she’s held up her end of the bargain, but she feels like the City is lagging on their end.
“We did not file court cases, we did not file for eviction, and we continue to pay the mortgage on the property, and we continue to pay the water bill,” Stokes said.
Stokes applied in July of 2020. She recently received some funds from the City, and after WMAR-2 News reached out to the Mayor’s Office, she was contacted about her pending applications.
“It’s not adequate,” said Aaron Greenfield, director of government affairs with the Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA), on the pace of funds being distributed. “We recognize that the state and local governments needed time, needed a runway to get their systems and infrastructure up to speed, but the reality is the state is receiving a total of over $700 million in eviction assistance and those dollars need to get out the door as quickly as possible."
The Treasury Department awarded Maryland $401.6 million in January. So far, $59.5 million or 15 percent has gone out, and another $36.5 million in payments are in progress.
“We are not in the business of evicting folks but at the same time we have no other alternative,” said Greenfield.
Greenfield added that jurisdictions can more efficiently disburse funds by prioritizing properties with residents who owe multiple months of rent. He said the United Way of Central Maryland's Strategic Targeted Eviction Prevention (STEP) Program has been particularly effective.
One-third of Baltimore City applications are still being processed
Specific data for Baltimore City isn’t available on the state’s dashboard, however, a spokesperson with the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success told WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii that the timing for processing payments can vary from a few weeks to several months, and so far, Baltimore City has disbursed $20.8 million in past-due rent payments between December 2020 to August 16, 2021.
As of August 16, 2021, the Baltimore City Eviction Prevention Program had received 10,274 applications since December 2020. More than 4,000 households have received back rent. Nearly 2,000 applications are being referred to the United Way to process in the landlord bundle. And 3,455 applications, or one-third of applications received, are still awaiting processing.
In an email to Sofastaii, Molly Rath, Director of Communications & Engagement with the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success, wrote:
"The city prioritizes and expedites all case where tenants have received notice of eviction, in order to avert eviction. Additionally, two important practices are now in place to accelerate the processing of rental assistance applications overall. The city is beginning to refer bundles of applications for multi-housing units to the United Way of Central MD for processing. And recent policy changes handed down by the Biden Administration that expand self-attestation and reduce certain documentation requirements will speed up application processing.
That said, the processing of rental assistance applications is complex. The city’s multiple funding sources each come with different eligibility requirements and spend-down deadlines, which requires ongoing changes in process, which in turn require ongoing training of staff. Additionally, the funding comes with significant document requirements: Both tenants and landlords must complete applications and provide a range of documents. Securing these documents often requires several follow-up calls, text messages and emails to both parties—and it can hold up application approval and payment."
In addition, the growing number of people in need of assistance impacts processing times.
“In March 2020, pre-COVID, 1 in 10 tenants was behind on rent. That number jumped to 1 in 5 by May and was as high as 1 in 3 by June 2020 for tenants not receiving unemployment benefits. The latest estimate from the Department of Housing and Community Development puts the number of tenants in Baltimore City who are behind on rent at 28,000,” Rath wrote.
The state is still accepting applications for rental assistance programs. Tenants and landlords should visit RentRelief.Maryland.gov.
Maryland is set to receive an additional $352 million in ERAP (Emergency Rental Assistance Program) funds. Those funds have not been allocated yet. Plans are under development.
If you need legal help with an eviction filing, these organizations provide free or low-cost assistance: