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Applications now open for second phase of Baltimore County eviction prevention program

The seal for Baltimore County government.
The seal for Baltimore County government.

Through a partnership with local community-based groups, Baltimore County has pooled an additional $2 million in coronavirus relief money to assist renters facing eviction because of the pandemic, and will begin accepting applications Tuesday, Oct. 6.

The extra $2 million extends an eviction prevention program County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced in June, offering $1 million to tenants who lost income during the pandemic.

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That funding came from the county’s portion of federal coronavirus relief funds and the Emergency Assistance to Families with Children fund through the Maryland Department of Human Services.

Since then, county government has given more than $1.2 million to 485 families seeking rental assistance, according to a news release, and in July announced it would provide another $3 million, which includes the $2 million available through partnering nonprofits.

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This will be the second time the county is seeking applicants for rental assistance. In July, it announced it would offer an extra $1 million to tenants who had applied for the money, but were not included in the first round of assistance.

The county estimates the extra money will support 545 more households after the “significant response” from renters seeking aid when the county announced its eviction prevention program in June.

The county unemployment rate peaked in April, when 10.5% of residents were out of work, according to data from the Maryland Department of Labor. In August, the latest state data available, the unemployment rate dropped to 7%, on par with the state rate.

“We have to do all we can to help families across Baltimore County who are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring that our neighbors can keep their housing is a critical part of that process,” Olszewski said in a statement.

Eviction hearings resumed in Maryland on Aug. 31, although Gov. Larry Hogan in March signed an executive order preventing courts from ordering evictions if tenants can demonstrate that their inability to pay rent was the result of the pandemic, such as losing their jobs or having to care for a school-age child.

Hogan allocated $10 million in statewide rental assistance for subsidized housing renters and $20 million for jurisdictions to fund their own programs.

The Republican’s executive order, housing advocates have pointed out, does not ban evictions outright. Tenants who are sued by their landlords for failing to pay rent will still have to show up for court hearings; if they do not show up to their hearing or can’t prove the pandemic is the reason they can’t pay rent, they can still be evicted.

And despite the eviction moratoriums from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some county landlords have still kicked out tenants who missed rental payments during the pandemic.

The $2 million, enabled by a Community Development Block Grant, will be administered through seven partnering community-based organizations — Associated Catholic Charities; Baltimore County Department of Social Services; Community Assistance Network; Episcopal Housing Corporation; House of Ruth; Jewish Community Services, and St. Vincent de Paul.

Applicants should apply through Baltimore County’s application portal and will be contacted by one of the organizations to complete the application and review their eligibility. Money will be divvied on a first-come, first-served basis.

In order to qualify for assistance, applicants must be a county resident with a valid lease agreement; at risk of losing rental housing due to COVID-19 income loss; earn no more than 80% the area median income, and cannot have received an eviction order prior to March 16.

Those who already have been notified of their eviction or have a scheduled court date can receive free, limited legal services from the District Court Self-Help Resource Centers from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. by calling 410-260-1392 or through an online chat.

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Through a partnership with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s Fair Housing Action Center, the county is also offering financial counseling and assistance in negotiating with landlords, and can refer tenants to legal assistance and renters' tax credit applications.

A County Council bill filed by Pikesville representative Izzy Patoka, a Democrat, prevents landlords from raising rent by more than 3% during the coronavirus state of emergency or for 90 days after a declared state of emergency ends, along with other provisions.

That legislation passed Monday night with amendments.

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