The city of Baltimore on Friday will stop accepting applications for rental assistance from people facing eviction, the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success announced Monday.
The announcement comes as the city exhausts its share of an unprecedented $46 billion in emergency rental assistance funds doled out by the federal government during the pandemic and as evictions tick back up toward pre-pandemic levels.
The city has paid more than $69 million to assist nearly 13,000 households, according to the city’s eviction prevention dashboard. The funds have been dispersed at a rate of $650,000 a week, said Debra Brooks, director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, at a City Council hearing on Tuesday.
The remaining funds will be almost entirely spent by mid-March, according to Brooks. The city will use that money to assist some of those households whose applications are already in the queue by the time the portal closes. But it will satisfy only a small fraction of the more than 8,000 applications that are currently under review, according to the dashboard.
Other residents will be connected with resources through community organizations that provide rental assistance on a case-by-case basis, the announcement said.
The announcement makes Baltimore the 15th jurisdiction in Maryland to stop accepting new applications. Some of those still accepting applications are doing so only from people facing imminent eviction, said Danielle Meister, director of the Office of Community Services Programs at the state Department of Housing and Community Development, at a hearing at the State House last week.
The effective end of the rental assistance program — the only backstop for many families facing eviction — comes amid a spike in evictions statewide. Rental assistance, as well as earlier eviction bans and court backlogs, prevented thousands of evictions throughout the pandemic.
There were 1,447 evictions statewide in September, according to the most recent data available, Meister said, just a few hundred shy of the monthly average of 1,748 in 2019.
A Baltimore Banner analysis earlier this month showed that evictions have increased especially rapidly in Baltimore City, where rates once closely mirrored Baltimore County’s. In August and September, about eight people were evicted each month for every 10,000 residents. The statewide rate was a little more than two people, and Baltimore County’s was around four.
In Baltimore, evictions this past September and November surpassed the 2019 tallies for those months, according to data provided by the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office.
At the hearing in Baltimore, council members expressed surprise and concern over the impending end of the program.
“This is bad, this is super-bad,” said Councilwoman Odette Ramos. “It’s not just a little bad.”
The city has applied to the U.S. Department of the Treasury to request reallocated eviction prevention funds, according to its announcement.
Baltimore has also lobbied the state for additional funds. That request was made in a letter to outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan in December by a coalition of advocacy groups and local officials — including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. The coalition called on him to allocate $175 million in state funds for rental assistance in the fiscal year 2024 budget.
Advocates repeated the request to new Gov. Wes Moore, but to no avail: The $63.1 billion spending plan released earlier this month includes no money for rental assistance.
To help people keep their homes, Moore wants to accelerate the state’s timeline to boost the minimum wage to $15, and he has earmarked money in his budget to provide legal help for those facing eviction, according to Moore’s spokesman, Carter Elliott. He did not respond to a question about why emergency rental assistance funding was not included in the budget.
Whether to add money for rental assistance still could be part of budget debate. Maryland has a multibillion dollar budget surplus this year. And lawmakers now have the ability to add items to the governor’s spending plan, after voters amended the state constitution in 2020.
Data reporter Ryan Little contributed reporting.