Maryland legislators concerned about housing crisis driven by pandemic


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — The pandemic has led to 200,000 Marylanders being “housing insecure.” Lawmakers in the state capital are hoping to avert a housing crisis as a result. It is estimated that tenants in the state owe $380 million in back rent from having lost work because of COVID.

A pilot project in Baltimore County takes a proactive approach to target renters most at risk of eviction and the Maryland General Assembly could adopt that approach statewide. The goal is to identify households most vulnerable to insecurity in their homes and proactively find an alternative to eviction while protecting landlords.

Tim Robustelli, a policy analyst for New America, is searching for a solution for communities.

“Evictions don’t help anyone,” Robustelli said. “For a landlord, it’s often the loss of a month of rent, multiple months of rent having to go through the process of filling a vacancy which, in itself, is time-consuming.

Montgomery County Delegate Jeanelle Wilkins is concerned about struggling renter households with children and abusive landlords.

“We appreciate that landlords and many have been working with their tenants, but that’s not the case for everyone and we can’t just rely on the goodwill of landlords,” said Wilkins. “We need strong policy solutions.”

Matan Zemmer is active with the Renters United Maryland coalition and sees logic in Robustelli’s policy analysis and urgency in Delegate Wilkins’s bill in the legislature.

“We haven’t seen legislation passed this session in Annapolis yet that would offer the immediate protections that upwards of 200,000 renters across Maryland need to stay housed, to stay safe to prevent the spread of covid and to keep people in financial standing,” Zemmer said.

Robustelli mines data in census tracts and zip codes to identify households most vulnerable to losing their shelter. He said the reality is that there are wide disparities in the legal representation tenants can get. Some abusive landlords, he said, are masters of manipulating the court system, harassing their tenants and forcing displacement. They long for the pre-pandemic stable market.

Tenant data-tracking in Colorado, Kentucky and Louisiana are models Maryland hopes to follow.

Delegate Wilkins and supporters of her bill are hopeful the General Assembly will pass the legislation before Monday’s final day of this year’s session.

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