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Howard County announces rental relief, food assistance to help residents during coronavirus pandemic

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Friday hundreds of thousands of dollars in food assistance and rental relief for county residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ball said a portion of the $500,000 Disaster Relief and Recovery Initiative in his proposed fiscal 2021 operating budget would be allocated to food assistance in the county.

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He designated $200,000 in relief funds to the Community Action Council of Howard County, pending County Council approval.

“This grant will enable CAC to continue to meet the monumental challenge and humanitarian crisis that has been caused by the coronavirus,” said Bita Dayoff, president of Community Action Council of Howard County.

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“In just six weeks, since mid-March, the Howard County Food Bank has served more than 12,000 individuals who unexpectedly found themselves in the midst of a financial crisis, which left their families in danger of hunger and potential homelessness.”

Ball also announced the allocation of $800,000 in county funding for rental assistance and eviction relief.

Of the total amount, $300,000 will come from the Disaster Relief and Recovery Initiative in the proposed operating budget, also requiring County Council approval. The remaining $500,000 will come from Moderate Income Housing Unit fee-in-lieu revenue sources. The MIHU Program requires developers of new housing in specific zoning districts in the county to sell or rent a portion of dwelling units to people with moderate incomes. In certain zoning areas and under certain circumstances, developers are allowed to pay a fee instead of providing MIHU units, according to the county.

Kelly Cimino, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said the rental relief is extended to families earning up to $92,000, the median income in the county. Howard County residents can expect to see this relief in the month of June, according to Cimino.

“As we continue to battle this virus, we must put into place adequate support programs and infrastructure to make sure no one falls through the cracks,” Ball said in a statement. “With more than 23,000 renters in the county, the need for rental assistance and eviction prevention will likely exceed what we’ve received in federal relief, which is why we’re allocating an additional $800,000.”

The housing department will use an application process to award the rental relief funds to nonprofit housing partners, so they can distribute it to residents as quickly as possible, according to a county news release.

Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a financial relief plan that included a possible 90-day deferral or even forbearance of mortgage payments.

Ball’s announcement comes one week after County Council Chairwoman Deb Jung, Vice Chairwoman Liz Walsh and Councilwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby filed emergency legislation to protect and stabilize the rent of thousands of households and local businesses in the county.

The Rental Protection and Stability Act would prevent residential and commercial landlords from increasing rents during the state of the emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic and for up to three months after it ends, the three said when filing the bill.

Ball said he wasn’t sure if the council’s legislation would be necessary on top of the relief he’s proposing. He would not say if he would sign the council’s bill if it passes at their June 1 meeting.

Ball also announced a virtual town hall to identify immediate needs will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The event will be streamed live on Facebook and on the county’s website. Questions can be asked during the event, but residents are encouraged to email questions ahead of time to townhall@howardcountymd.gov.

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