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Baltimore County offering $1 million for tenants facing eviction amid coronavirus economic woes

Baltimore County is using $1 million from state and federal emergency assistance funds to launch its eviction prevention program, the county announced Tuesday. The deadline to apply for the funding is 5 p.m. Friday.

More than 78,000 county residents have filed for unemployment insurance since March, according to data from the Maryland Department of Labor and Licensing. Across the state, more than 600,000 Marylanders have filed for unemployment insurance since state officials began closing businesses in mid-March to curb spreading of the coronavirus.

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The new program is meant to help pay the past-due rent of tenants who face eviction after Maryland’s state of emergency is lifted and the temporary statewide ban on evictions is subsequently removed. In partnership with Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s Fair Housing Action Center, the program will also offer applicants financial coaching and assistance negotiating with landlords, help renters apply for tax credits and connect them with legal counsel and other supportive services.

The county expects the average award to cover two months of rent per household. Applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

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County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement the funding was “just a first step, but an important one.” His spokesman said allocating more funding — derived from the county’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds and the state Department of Social Services’s emergency assistance fund — will be predicated on how high the need for it may be, based on how many qualifying residents apply.

While setting up a process to help prevent evictions is a good start, Public Justice Center attorney Matt Hill said $1 million will not be enough to sufficiently aid residents who have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic, a problem he says will persist even as the state reopens the economy.

Hill said that his Baltimore-based office continues to be buried in phone calls from tenants seeing legal counsel as their landlords threaten eviction. Rental delinquency rates of Maryland tenants reached almost 22% in May, more than double the delinquency rate reported by landlords in May 2019, according to data from the Maryland Multi-Housing Association.

Landlords of Class C rental properties — deteriorating older buildings often located in neighborhoods populated by residents working low-paying jobs — have reported the highest delinquency rate, according to the Multi-Housing Association.

Particularly in African American and Latino communities that have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, Hill said socioeconomic disparities and housing insecurity will be exacerbated if the state does not commit more funding for jurisdictions to allocate for eviction prevention programs.

“I just think its incredibly callous for the governor not to meet, or even plan to meet, the overwhelming need for rental assistance,” Hill said.

“If someone doesn’t step up, it’s going to result in huge amounts of evictions and homelessness and the public health crisis that comes with evictions and homelessness,” Hill said.

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