Calls for Gov. Larry Hogan to create a rental assistance program to stave off COVID-19 related evictions are growing, as some policy experts advocate for alternative solutions.
The Baltimore City Council is expected to approve a resolution Monday calling on the governor to create a statewide rental assistance program. That follows a letter sent last week, signed by a handful of organizations representing property owners and community development advocates, beseeching the governor to create a rental assistance program.
“It is imperative that the State provide some emergency housing assistance to Maryland households who have been financially impacted by COVID before a housing crisis is created and before the court system is bogged down in eviction proceedings,” according to the letter sent to Hogan.
The executives of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, the Community Development Network of Maryland, the Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition, and the Maryland Multi-Housing Association Inc. all signed the letter.
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hogan issued an executive order in April placing a moratorium on evicting tenants due to economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the state ordered most businesses in Maryland closed in a bid to slow the diseases’ spread more about 13 weeks ago, more than 800,000 residents have filed for unemployment.
In recent weeks, however, Maryland has started slowly easing restrictions on businesses, and the state added 30,000 jobs last month. If Maryland’s battle against the coronavirus continues to improve, Hogan is expected to eventually lift the eviction moratorium.
But some believe a statewide program is required to truly blunt the potential for a surge in evictions, especially when the unemployment rate in the state is nearly 10%.
Some conservative-leaning policy experts argue there are alternatives to a government-run program to prevent increases in evictions once moratoriums are lifted.
Salim Furth, a senior research fellow at the free-market oriented Mercatus Center at George Mason University, argues in a policy brief that data from places such as Princeton University shows landlords “take broad market conditions into account before evicting tenants who miss rent.”
A better model, according to Furth, is to provide incentives to landlords who don’t act hastily in moving to evict tenants. Local governments, like Montgomery County, that use a transferrable development rights market, which allows developers to buy rights in order to develop at greater density than zoning allows, he argues, should use the development rights as incentives proportionate to forgone rents.
Furth also suggests jurisdictions provide a model for landlords and tenants to renegotiate rents and to limit evictions by establishing priority rankings for evictions, with preference given to cases involving violence, property damage and other reasons not involving late rent payments.
Various local jurisdictions throughout Maryland, including Montgomery County, Baltimore County and Baltimore city, all have enacted local rental assistance programs. Those initiatives range in size from a $2 million to $13 million in terms of cost and primarily are funded by federal funds approved in response to the pandemic.
Activists in Maryland have also pushed to allow residents’ the right to counsel in eviction hearings. Backers of that proposal argue that providing tenants facing eviction with counsel ultimately costs less than the cumulative expense of providing transitional housing, foster care expenses and Medicaid if tenants are evicted.