Advocates asked Maryland for $175 million to prevent an evictions crisis. They got $2 million.

The emergency rental assistance funds were quietly added to the budget during negotiations on Friday

Published 3/31/2023 6:49 p.m. EDT, Updated 3/31/2023 8:06 p.m. EDT

Tenants, advocates, and lawmakers gathered outside the State House Thursday to call on lawmakers to pass several policies that would protect tenants from eviction or poor living conditions
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Maryland lawmakers quietly added $2 million for emergency rental assistance in the final hours of budget negotiations on Friday, a fraction of what housing advocates have said will be necessary to avoid a mounting eviction crisis in the state.

The Maryland Emergency Rental Assistance Coalition, which includes housing advocacy groups, had repeatedly called on the governor and the General Assembly to provide $175 million in emergency rental assistance as funds doled out by the federal government during the pandemic dry up.

Despite demands by the advocates and local officials, including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery, the $63.1 billion spending plan proposed by Gov. Wes Moore in January included no money for rental assistance.

Lawmakers are expected to give final approval to the budget next week.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks with reporters on March 20, 2023 about his legislative agenda at the State House on “crossover” day, the deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber of the Maryland General Assembly to have the best chance of passage. He’s joined by his chief legislative officer, Eric Luedtke.

“With skyrocketing rents and continued economic instability, emergency rental assistance plays a key role in preventing evictions for families who face a financial setback like losing hours at work due to illness, the death of a family’s primary earner, or an unexpected hospital bill. A financial setback should never have to end in a catastrophic eviction,” the coalition said in a statement shared with The Banner Friday evening. “We hope that in the coming year we can partner with the Administration and the General Assembly to look at best practices and components of a multi-faceted, sustainable set of housing policies, which includes emergency rental assistance.”

In a letter to Moore and legislative leaders last week, the coalition had reduced its request to $50 million, which it estimated would prevent the evictions of those in 10,000 low-income households.

“We know we will see skyrocketing evictions and homelessness across every jurisdiction without investment in the FY 24 budget for emergency rental assistance,” the coalition wrote. “Emergency rental assistance provides an immediate and rapid response when families are facing short-term financial crises, ensuring a missed month’s rent doesn’t become the catalyst that leads to homelessness.”

In recent months, jurisdictions across Maryland have been forced to stop accepting applications for rental assistance as they’ve reached the end of their portion of the state’s $750 million share of federal emergency rental assistance.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development as of late January expected that the funds would be fully spent within a few months.

“We have a major crisis that will happen in the next few months,” Dominic Butchko, associate policy director for the Maryland Association of Counties, told legislators at a hearing in January. “If we don’t do something soon to help people who are on rental assistance right now, it will be big — and it is coming.”

Asked about the absence of emergency rental assistance from Moore’s proposed budget in January, Carter Elliott, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, told The Banner that he wanted to accelerate the state’s timeline to boost the minimum wage to $15, and had earmarked money in his budget to provide legal help for those facing eviction.

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For much of the pandemic, Maryland eviction numbers remained far below 2019 rates. Early on, eviction moratoriums and court closures suppressed those numbers.

But a Banner analysis in January showed that evictions increased rapidly in 2022, especially in the summer, when more than 4,100 people were evicted. That’s twice as many people as during the same period in 2021, and triple the number from the summer of 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Evictions did remain about 30% below the summer of 2019.

There were 1,447 evictions statewide in September, just a few hundred shy of the monthly average of 1,748 in 2019.

The Banner’s analysis showed that evictions increased particularly rapidly in Baltimore City, where rates once closely mirrored Baltimore County’s. In August and September, about 8 people were evicted each month for every 10,000 residents. The statewide rate was a little more than 2 people, and Baltimore County’s was around 4 per 10,000 residents.

Baltimore Banner reporters Pamela Wood and Ryan Little contributed reporting.