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This week, President Joe Biden extended the Center for Disease Control’s federal eviction moratorium, which covers 90% of renters facing eviction, caving to pressure from progressive Democrats such as Missouri Rep. Cori Bush.
Bush, who has experienced homelessness herself, slept on the steps of the Capitol building for five days to highlight the cruelty of evicting as many as 7 million people during a pandemic.
While celebrating the 60-day extension, which carries sharp fines for landlords who defy it, housing advocates are also drawing attention to the fact the moratorium does not halt evictions entirely. The extension is intended to protect renters from eviction for falling behind on rent payments who live in areas the CDC deems to have “substantial” or “high” risk of COVID-19 exposure, and that includes Baltimore City.
It does not include Baltimore County, which is experiencing “moderate” transmission. Catonsville resident Falon T, a preschool teacher (who requested anonymity because she felt uncomfortable making her financial difficulties public) who lost her job during the pandemic and fell behind on rent is one of the thousands of Marylanders who still faces eviction when the state’s eviction moratorium expires on Aug. 15.
She resumed working in June, but fell three months behind on rent and was unable to access rental assistance.
“I’ve applied for assistance. They were responsive at first then basically ghosted me,” T told Battleground Baltimore. “Unemployment went towards rent and other bills until it was exhausted and now I’m behind.”
T and her boyfriend are among the 129,000 Maryland households who are behind on rent, according to Census Household Pulse Survey data compiled by the National Equity Atlas.
“I’m honestly nervous. I really don’t have anywhere to go,” T said. “It’s just really unfair and inhumane what they’re doing. They failed us. 1000%.”
The majority of Maryland residents behind on rent are people of color and low income. Over 40% are unemployed. They owe an estimated $543 million in rent to landlords. Maryland has been allocated $700 million in federal funds for emergency rental assistance, but only $49 million has been distributed to renters so far, according to the Associated Press.
Carol Ott, tenant advocacy director of the Fair Housing Action Center of Marylander told Battleground Baltimore what has happened to T is “a common story.”
Ott said that this year she already has 800 clients looking for help. In 2020, Ott had 939 for the entire year.
She says that if you are facing eviction, reaching out to a local legal aid society or an organization like hers is a good idea. She also encourages people not to ignore the court order.
“You have to go [to court],” she told renters. “And you have to take all your documentation to show you have made a tremendous effort to prevent the eviction.”
Eviction court in Baltimore usually favors the landlord. In a city with some 150,000 eviction cases annually, a recent report found 96% of landlords have lawyers in eviction cases, compared to only 1% of tenants. Legal representation would help 92% of clients avoid displacement.
Baltimore also passed right to counsel legislation, which will provide tenants with legal representation during the eviction proceedings, which will go into effect in October. pay rent due to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped landlords and courts from evicting 537 families between August and November of 2020, according to the Public Justice Center.
Maryland has banned evictions since last spring for tenants who can demonstrate an inability to pay.
On Wednesday, Aug. 11, renters facing eviction and the group Baltimore Renters United will be speaking out at City Hall. They’re demanding Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan extend the state’s moratorium for areas not covered by the CDC’s extension, and to provide protections for tenants who are falling behind on rent and being threatened by landlords.
Almost 60% of all Maryland residents are vaccinated, but the rise of the Delta variant has fueled a 200% jump in the state’s positivity rate over the past two weeks. During this same period, cases in Baltimore—where just under 50% of the population is fully vaccinated—have increased by 194%, according to the New York Times. Nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in Maryland are among unvaccinated populations, but the small number of breakthrough cases among those who are vaccinated is growing.
“The evictions are extremely concerning. It’s a moral tragedy, what we’re facing right now—it’s a death sentence, COVID is out here still, it’s stronger, and people are going to be put back out into the street to die,” Mark Council, lead organizer of Housing Our Neighbor, told Battleground Baltimore. “The evictions need to stop. This is preventable. This doesn’t have to happen, our elected officials are choosing to let it happen.”
“Baltimore City has spent a total of $20 million in state and federal funds and processed over 4,000 applications through the City’s eviction prevention program, managed by the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success,” the office of Mayor Brandon Scott told Battleground Baltimore in a statement. “The City is also working with the Sheriff’s Office to receive the information on families that have an eviction schedule so that the City can intervene and settle cases with landlords before families are evicted.”
On Thursday, Aug. 5, Scott announced Baltimore City’s indoor mask mandate would be reinstated on Monday, Aug. 9.
“We must all do our due diligence to protect ourselves and our neighbors,” Scott said during a press conference. “While we know that masking is a sure way to slow the spread of COVID-19, we cannot stress enough the importance and urgency of getting vaccinated so that we can beat COVID-19 for good.”
“The Delta variant is here, and it poses a serious threat to our unvaccinated residents,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said at the press conference.
At a press conference that began around the same time as Scott’s presser, Hogan announced he would not be instituting a statewide mask mandate, and instead told Marylanders who aren’t vaccinated to “get the damn vaccine.”
Hogan Announces $6 Million More To Fund The Drug War
The Delta variant surge isn’t the only public health problem Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan seems to fundamentally misunderstand—there’s also the overdose crisis.
This week, Hogan announced $6 million in grants to fund the Maryland Criminal Intelligence Network (MCIN) and the Heroin Coordinator Program, and, as his office puts it, “to address [the] heroin and opioid crisis.”
“Addressing” it however, mostly means arresting and incarcerating people who sell and use drugs and through that, perpetuating the racist war on drugs, the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) told Battleground Baltimore: “This Administration relies on fear-mongering drug war tactics designed to shut out common-sense, compassionate strategies. Governor Hogan’s six million dollar plan highlights such tactics, such as over-funding and militarizing law enforcement,” BHRC said in a statement.
Baltimore City will receive $821,785 from MCIN and $83,000 from the Heroin Coordinator Program. These programs primarily focus on arresting and prosecuting people who sell drugs while also moving people who use drugs who are arrested into treatment—a typical, fraught approach to drug use which assumes everyone who uses drugs has substance use disorder. Many people who use heroin do not have substance use disorder and studies show that forced treatment is ineffective even for those who might benefit from it.
Nevertheless, Hogan talked-up these carceral solutions in a press release: “This funding will support a statewide effort to address the heroin and opioid public health crisis in an integrated investigative manner, and to stop criminal organizations from bringing illegal guns and drugs into our communities,” Hogan said.
Last year, there were 1,028 fatal overdoses in Baltimore City—the highest number in the state.
As Battleground Baltimore has previously reported, drug war-style approaches to gun seizures are similarly unsuccessful and perpetuate many of the same problems the war on drugs perpetuates—namely, racially discriminatory policing that continues to fuel mass incarceration. These approaches also do not keep people safe.
Just a few months ago, Hogan vetoed a decriminalization of paraphernalia bill, Senate Bill 420 (SB420). The veto by Hogan in late May arrived with plenty of scaremongering from the governor with claims about “drug dealers” being able to stock up on paraphernalia—a claim we still don’t understand, to be quite honest.
In reality, decriminalizing paraphernalia keeps people who use drugs safer and helps prevent the spread of disease and in general, keeps people healthier. For example, someone might throw away a clean needle or a cooker instead of carrying it with them so that they can reduce the possibility of arrest. As a result, they have to locate those items again and again, if desperate, become more apt to share or reuse needles.
“SB420 [which would] decriminalize possession of paraphernalia was the only bill passed by our 2021 Maryland Legislature designed to significantly curb the overdose epidemic,” BHRC said. “Governor Hogan vetoed this potentially life-saving bill while we continue to lose lives to overdose and other preventable public health crises. This winter, Maryland legislators must override Hogan’s veto decision and finally decriminalize drug paraphernalia in Maryland.”