Eviction “deluge” looms, AAC rent assistance increased
A Maryland attorney who specializes in defending tenants facing eviction told Anne Arundel County leadership May 12 that lawyers in the state’s legal services community expect a “deluge” of eviction cases later summer in the summer when emergency rental protections are currently scheduled to lapse. Representative of county departments as well as community organizations and a Maryland state delegate met Tuesday May 12 for a public video conference titled “Building Back Better: Housing”. Attending were Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Maryland District 3 State Delegate Shaneka Henson, Toni Pratt from Anne Arundel Connecting Together, Kathy Ebner with Homes for America, Kathleen Koch from Anne Arundel Community Development Services, Inc., Carnitra White with the county’s department of social services, and Zafar Shah from the Public justice Center. “We’re going to have a lot of eviction,” said Zafor Shah, an attorney with the Public Justice Center. The law firm advocates for social justice issues in Maryland, including housing. “Across the legal services community in Maryland, attorneys are extremely concerned about the deluge of eviction cases coming. There’s kind of a cliff coming that, unfortunately, also coincides unemployment expansion cliff that’s coming. That means these federal protections will start to lapse.” The federal government issued a $600 increase in unemployment insurance for recipients due to the COVID-19 emergency. That increase currently is set to lapse after payments for the last week of unemployment before July 31, 2020. Even though emergency housing protections exist, eviction cases can still be filed by landlords. The Maryland Court of Appeals is set to reopen on June 6 and cases will begin to heard sometime thereafter, Shah said. According to Shah, before the pandemic struck, tenants only attended their eviction hearings about four percent of the time. He expects that percentage to decline if public transportation is limited, he said. “If they don’t show up, that will be a default judgment in favor of the landlord,” he said. If they miss several monthly payments in a row, tenants may lose their right to redemption, which may give the landlord the right to evict them even if they begin receiving rental assistance, Shah said. “Are they going to be homeless when this is over?” said Toni Pratt from Anne Arundel Connecting Together (ACT). “Are they going to have a place to stay? If they don’t stay ahead of it we’re going to have a bigger problem, and that’s going to be homelessness in our county.” ACT is a community organization and part of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). It deals with local housing challenges among other issues. Anne Arundel County has taken steps to help residents who need help meeting their rent. One million dollars has already been provided for rental and utility assistance for 600 applicants. According to Kathleen Koch, with Anne Arundel Community Services, Inc., half of those dollars came from county housing funds and the other half comes from the video lottery fund. And Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced during the meeting the county was adding another $3 million to the fund. Two million dollars of the new increase to rental assistance comes from the federal CARES Act allocation of $101 million to Anne Arundel County. The other $1 million comes from the Community Development Block Grant Program. Bill 38-20 is also being considered by the Anne Arundel County Council. If passed the emergency ordinance would prevent residential rent increases in the county beyond an increase of 3 percent by landlords for 120 days following the end of Maryland's declared state of emergency. Pittman said four county legislators are in favor of the bill, while three have not committed to it. “When we have a stabilization policy in effect it really let’s us be able to help effectively,” said District 3 Maryland State Delegate Shaneka Henson. Although the county is building a safety net to help residents with a potential looming eviction and foreclosure crisis, Pittman was unsure if it would be enough to meet the need in the months ahead. He said he was in favor of husbanding the CARE money to make more of it available if a county housing crisis hits. “From where I’m standing there really in nothing more important,” he said. “This and feeding people. It’s good we have systems set up. The question is going to be what’s the capacity if these things we have talked about happen. If the numbers really grow what’s that going to do?” “The safety that a lot of us had before COVID, a lot of us don’t have now,” Pratt said.