With Maryland’s statewide COVID-19 eviction moratorium set to expire July 25, Carroll County officials are bracing for a wave of people in need of help.
“We’re expecting a significant increase,” said Scott Yard, executive director of the Human Services Programs (HSP) of Carroll County. HSP is a nonprofit that works with Carroll County government. It provides shelter services, connects people to food resources, helps pay utility bills and offers financial assistance through an eviction prevention program.
In a typical year, HSP prevents evictions for 100 households, according to Yard. He doesn’t know how many people in Carroll County currently face evictions, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he expects the number to be high.
Gov. Larry Hogan in March barred evictions during the state of emergency, then extended that order April 3. Unless the governor extends the order again, after July 25 the court will begin to process warrants for failure to pay rent. Lawmakers recently called on Hogan to extend the moratorium until Jan. 31, 2021.
“We know that there’s a lot of landlords that are ready to file as soon as the moratorium is lifted,” Yard said.
Celene Steckel, director of Carroll County Department of Citizen Services, said some people will likely be facing eviction for the first time. People have lost jobs and child care, and had no time to prepare before the pandemic hit, she said.
Thousands of Carroll countians have at least temporarily lost their jobs since mid-March. Weekly figures have been relatively stable in recent weeks — about 360 residents have applied in the weeks ending June 27, July 4 and July 11 — though they’re still far above what was normal before the pandemic.
Who can help?
HSP and the Department of Citizen Services are preparing to help these people.
HSP received about $120,000 through the federal Emergency Solutions Grant that can be used to provide assistance to people facing eviction due to COVID-19, according to Yard. The organization also has about $100,000 to help people facing eviction in general. Yard said the nonprofit is supported in part by about a dozen churches and civic organizations.
The Department of Citizen Services has applied for funding to assist those who have housing vouchers, Steckel said, and they hope to apply for more, a move that would require approval by the Board of County Commissioners.
Carroll residents who have housing vouchers that weren’t administered by Westminster City Housing and are facing eviction should contact Citizen Services at 410-386-3600. People facing eviction who received vouchers from Westminster should call the city’s housing authority at 410-848-2261, Steckel advised. Those concerned about being evicted who don’t have vouchers or are on a waiting list for vouchers should call HSP at 410-857-2999. Yard also invites people to visit the HSP office at 10 Distillery Drive in Westminster.
One of the people who might take a concerned renter’s call at the county office is Danielle Yates, bureau chief of housing. When someone calls, depending on their situation, Yates said, they would first encourage a tenant to discuss a rent repayment plan with their landlord. Citizen Services can help develop a repayment plan and contact a landlord to explain the benefits of a repayment plan, she said.
If repayment isn’t an option, Yates said, then Citizen Services would look into what financial assistance is available to the tenant. The tenant may be referred to HSP or the Business Employment Resource Center (BERC).
BERC will reopen July 27 by appointment only, the director of economic development, Jack Lyburn, announced at the Board of Commissioners meeting July 16.
Yates said Citizen Services also sent letters to landlords last week inquiring if they had tenants behind on their rent. As of Friday afternoon, she said they hadn’t received responses. Yard said HSP has also been in contact with landlords.
What happens July 25?
Although the end of the moratorium is days away, it’s not as if hundreds of Carroll County residents will be on the streets the same day it expires.
“On July 25 people just don’t instantly lose their housing,” Yates said.
After July 25, existing judgments and warrants that were pending prior to the shutdown will be handled first, Steckel said. Beginning Aug. 31, the court will hear new cases on failure to pay rent, she said.
From a tenant’s perspective, Steckel said, the moratorium was probably helpful for people trying to get back on their feet after a sudden financial loss.
“But I think we haven’t seen the outcome of this until this moratorium is lifted,” she added.
Yates said they haven’t heard any negative feedback from landlords. Information on preventing evictions for landlords that accept housing vouchers is available on the county’s housing and community development website.
Steckel’s goal is to make sure no one is displaced when the moratorium is lifted. She, Yates, and Yard encouraged tenants who are worried about eviction to call their offices for help, even if they doubt they’d be eligible for financial assistance.
If that ends up being the case, Yard said, they still might be able to help them with another problem.
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“I like to think we can help everybody with something,” he said.