A nonprofit corporation that distributes grants to ensure access to legal services to Marylanders who are in danger of losing their homes will receive $11.7 million from the state, Gov. Larry Hogan and Attorney General Brian Frosh said Thursday.
“Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to implement a moratorium on evictions for tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we continue to provide targeted relief to help those in need,” Hogan said in a statement. “These additional resources are yet another way that we are following through on our commitment to do everything we can to help Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet, and recover.”
“One of the most urgent issues facing our state is the wave of evictions that so many residents face as a result of the pandemic,” Frosh said in a statement. “We need to keep families in their homes and off the streets. I’m pleased we are able to dedicate this money, recovered through the hard work of our lawyers, for this vital purpose. I also want to thank the members of my COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force for their advocacy for increased legal services funding and their work to help Marylanders facing the loss of their homes.”
The nonprofit entity is the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC). It was created by the General Assembly in 1982 to provide funding to groups that represent low-income Marylanders with housing security issues. Since that time MLSC has distributed more than $31o million in grants and has provided legal services in almost 3.5 million cases.
MLSC executive director Susan Erlichman applauded the state’s decision to allocate the funds.
“These funds could not have come at a more critical time for the preservation of Maryland’s civil legal aid safety net,” Erlichman said in a statement. “MLSC is experiencing an unprecedented funding shortage due to the impact of COVID on our main revenue sources, and the action taken today translates into literally tens of thousands of Marylanders facing evictions and other matters who otherwise would have had no place to turn, now able to get the legal help they desperately need.”
As a general rule evictions are illegal in Maryland while the state of emergency is in effect. However, defendants must prove that their inability to pay their rent or mortgage is directly tied to the pandemic. Those proceedings are often complicated and landlords are likely to prevail if the defendant lacks representation. Many people also may be afraid of going to court because they might be exposed to COVID-19.
There are 129,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Thursday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,835 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 2.79%, which is better than that of most states in the country. Maryland has tested more than 2.8 million people for COVID-19.