Baltimore will use $13 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to create a rental assistance program, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Tuesday.
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the local economy as the city’s unemployment rate has spiked as businesses remain shut down. Nearly one in five working Marylanders have filed for unemployment benefits since the beginning of March.
This new city program is intended to assist tenants in paying past-due rent and provide them with legal counsel should they have to take their landlords to court.
While Maryland has banned evictions during the current state of emergency, the economic uncertainty facing families will last much longer than that.
“The moratorium on evictions is not enough on its own," Young said. "We need to prepare for the ongoing crisis caused by lost income and the risk of evictions caused by COVID-19 impacts.”
Public Justice Center attorney Matt Hill said his organization has already been inundated with calls from tenants whose landlords are threatening to kick them out because they’re unable to pay rent.
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“We know that housing is health care,” Hill said, adding that the new fund is an “excellent start to address the looming wave of evictions."
Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said his agency is still working out the details of how the money will be distributed. But he said they’re working swiftly to ensure everything is in place within the next few weeks.
The City Council on Monday passed the COVID-19 Rent Increase Protection Act, which would prevent a landlord from raising a tenant’s rent during the current state of emergency and for three months after it’s lifted. Landlords also wouldn’t be allowed to charge late fees during that time period.
Young’s spokesman said the mayor intends to sign the bill.
Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa also said the city began Tuesday accepting residents with COVID-19 into the Lord Baltimore hotel.
The 400-bed hotel will shelter people with moderate or mild COVID-19 symptoms who can’t isolate themselves because of their living situation. These include people experiencing homelessness or those in multi-generational homes.
By isolating patients, the city hopes to prevent additional coronavirus infections.