Relief funds to aid renters
To prevent evictions, city marks $13M for struggling tenants
Baltimore renters who lost their income due to the coronavirus pandemic can receive assistance under a more than $13 million relief program that will launch Wednesday.
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Tuesday that the temporary rental assistance program is intended to “prevent a wave of evictions during this pandemic.” The administration also will pour more resources into efforts to stop families from becoming homeless.
“Like millions of families across the country, many Baltimore families are struggling to pay rent and have faced record unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Young said in a statement. “With this program, along with the support aimed at overall homelessness prevention, we will serve low-income households facing financial hardship or loss of income.”
Applications will be accepted online beginning Wednesday and continuing until 7 p.m. July 13.
Unemployment in Maryland has soared since the pandemic began in March. Efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 have dealt devastating blows the economy, especially in Baltimore, where so much prosperity relies on hotels, restaurants and tourism. The city’s unemployment rate has outpaced
the state’s, jumping from 4.9% in March to 11.9% in April, the most recent data available locally. The rate across Maryland was 3.3% in March and 10.1% in April.
Young said rent delinquencies in the city are believed to be twice what they were before the pandemic.
Baltimore City joins other Maryland jurisdictions in providing rental relief, including Baltimore and Prince George’s counties
For Baltimore City renters approved for the one-time emergency aid, payments will be made to their landlords to help them get current on rent from April, MayandJune. If a tenant received unemployment benefits, she or he must agree to pay a portion of their outstanding rent.
Priority will be given to households with children, those in which a resident is 60 or older, and those with at least three people. Households in which none of the residents have been approved for unemployment benefits also will get preference.
Officials said funding is limited and not every applicant will get financial aid.
It is not clear what the average rental payment will be, how many households the city will be able to serve, or whether applications will be processed on a firstcome, first-served basis.
The city has a moratorium on evictions in place through late July, but Young said the assistance program offers added protection for renters and brings more stability to the rental market.
Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman said city officials designed the program with input from tenant advocates, community partners and landlords, both.small- and large-scale.
“As a city, we’ve been able to assemble a range of resources for both rent support and homeless prevention with the shared objective of mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on tenants’ ability to pay rent and the cascading effects of eviction,” Braverman said in a statement.
Housing advocates say many renters are in desperate need.
Carol Ott, tenant advocacy director for the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, said the program will offer much needed support. But, she said, the city should have acted faster and, going forward, Baltimore officials must be more proactive.
“The money is necessary to keep so many of our city tenants in their homes,” Ott said. “So many of our workers are in service industry jobs. They typically don’t earn high wages, and they are the first to go when the economy goes south.”
Because the subsidies will go to landlords who must meet strict criteria, Ott said she is worried tenants living in substandard housing will be left in hopeless situations.
“You can’t even imagine what it is like to suddenly have your income ripped away, and especially if you have kids,” Ott said. “It keeps you up at night.”
To be eligible, city renters must earn less than $41,600 for homes with two people, $46,800 for three people and $52,000 for four people. People who live alone cannot make more than $36,400 to qualify for assistance.
Renters must have a current lease signed by a landlord with a valid rental property license. Landlords must be willing to accept 80% of the rent due and agree to waive any late fees, interest and penalties. The lease, or documentation of a month-to-month arrangement, must be submitted with the application and the renter’s identification must match the name on the lease.
Renters also must provide proof of how much money they made before the outbreak, along with income statements for all the adults who live in the home. For those who have received an Unemployment Notice of Benefits Eligibility, such letters must be included in the application.
People who had unpaid rent before April or face eviction for late payments before the pandemic won’t qualify. Also, to receive the assistance, tenants can’t live in public housing or use a Section 8 voucher to pay rent.
Funding for the rental support programs comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act.
Young said while the rental program will address shorter-term needs, the city is working to address longer-standing housing instability problems with a more robust tenant-based eviction prevention program.
To help pay for homelessness prevention as the city braces for courts to reopen and eviction cases proceed, Young is tapping additional CARES Act funds and money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Commission, among other sources.