U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen teamed up with Maryland’s state lawmakers on Tuesday to emphasize the need for legislative action to help avert an eviction crisis spurned by the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal moratorium on evictions expires on March 31. Maryland has suspended evictions during the state emergency but tenants must be able to prove that their inability to pay is directly attributable to the pandemic and that can be a complicated process as courts are generally inclined to side with landlords. Like Maryland’s moratorium on evictions, the federal moratorium also contains loopholes landlords can use to initiate the process.
“We’ve seen what the economists call a K-shaped economy, where folks at the top are doing just fine. You have Wall Street performing very well while so many other Americans are struggling every day. And this situation is particularly acute in the area of housing,” Van Hollen (D) said at a virtual discussion forum.
Van Hollen pointed to statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association that said that nationwide there are about 2.1 million Americans who are at risk of defaulting on their mortgage and that last year that number included about 8.8% of residential property owners in Maryland-putting the state at No.5 nationally in mortgage delinquencies.
Van Hollen said the situation for Maryland’s renters is worse. The senator pointed to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that estimated that as many as 214,000 of the state’s renters, or 1 out 10, are at risk of being evicted. “We don’t want people to be foreclosed upon or evicted at any time but what has happened is that in the middle of a pandemic is victims of eviction end up finding places to live in much more concentrated settings where people are much closer together,” he said.
Van Hollen noted that the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that Congress passed last month provided $25 billion in rental assistance to states and that Maryland received $402 million in rental assistance. Still, the senator said more has to be done and he urged action on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which would provide another $25 billion in rental assistance to states.
But the state assistance to renters may precede that of federal assistance.
Sen. Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore County), who has co-sponsored legislation in the General Assembly that would set up an eviction diversion program, said he hopes the measure will increase housing security prospects.
“Eviction is something that is used as a means of last resort. We want to make sure that people stay in their homes and have an opportunity to work these issues out where they can.”
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery) echoed simliar sentiments.
“We need to work to do everything that we can to make sure that Marylanders are able to stay at home and be safe. We know that this housing crisis is not going to end when the pandemic ends…housing debt won’t magically disappear then. That will still be there and we need policies to make sure that people are able to stay in their homes.”
Among the bills the General Assembly is considering to address the state’s housing crisis are measures that would provide rental relief and legal counsel to residents facing eviction.