State delegates push for eviction protection

Posted at 5:09 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-04 10:55:56-05

BALTIMORE — The stimulus bill, if passed, would supply some much-needed relief to people all throughout the country but for those who are facing eviction notices, this is just a temporary relief and not stability for the future.

"I don't want anyone else to have to experience that nor do I want to go back to it if possible," said Jeffrey Gray-Gilliam.

He's referring to when he was homeless after he lost his job during this pandemic. Now, he's only surviving because of help from the Housing Opportunities Commission, a government organization that helps with affordable housing.

Now, state delegates are working on eviction prevention legislation.

"Our most effective protection from COVID-19 has been to stay at home, but now hundreds of thousands of Marylanders are at risk of losing their homes, they’re safety and security during a time when this pandemic continues to ravage communities," said Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, District 20, Montgomery County.

When the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January, they plan on introducing the Housing Justice Package which would prohibit most evictions until April 2022, urge landlords to avoid evictions when possible and give tenants a lawyer.

"Providing counsel at the time of an eviction case, prevents eviction and actually saves the state money compared to having to provide emergency expenditures when a family goes into homeless," said Zafar Shah, an attorney with the Public Justice Center. He added, "we have to slow down the eviction and foreclosure processes so that assistance can actually get to people."

Shah stressed the best thing for you to do right now is seek legal help, while legislators do their part. You can start by just calling 211.

He's concerned about the courts re-opening next month with thousands of cases already filed. The courts were originally supposed to start Phase II on January 15 and are now starting Phase II on March 14, 2021. Which is slightly more time but Shah said it's not enough.

He said, "we can’t wait for there to be more damage and convince people there is a crisis. People of Maryland know it’s crisis."

The stimulus relief bill does include $25 billion in eviction assistance to help with rent. So Shah said, "people just need to understand there is silver lining, a light at the end of the tunnel we just need to make sure people get to the end of the tunnel and not be evicted."

The CDC has a federal eviction mortarium in place to protect renters during this pandemic, which postpones evictions and doesn't prevent them. This moratorium is only in place until January 31.

"It is imperative that we do not attempt to address the eviction crisis with Band-Aids but through passing meaningful reform that offer direct support to tenants in addition to the landlord and so today my colleagues and I we are not asking landlords to give up their rights, we are asking for a fair fight," said Delegate Mellissa Wells, District 40, Baltimore City.