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A healthy rental housing market

Over the past several months, there has been much public discussion regarding COVID-19’s impact on Maryland’s housing industry. We write to explore the current landscape and review the data.

The federal government has provided Maryland with more than $700 million in rental assistance to cover unpaid rent for residents who have been impacted by the pandemic, including up to three months of future rent. According to data from Maryland’s District Court, more than 97 percent of eviction filings across the state are a direct response to unpaid rent. As such, federal rental assistance has provided Maryland with the means to address the vast majority of eviction filings through rent payments on behalf of residents.

It is important to note that Maryland was provided with so much rental assistance that, just this past April, a tenant lobbyist testified before the Maryland Senate that there was no need for additional rental assistance for residents. In fact, that lobbyist argued for funds in a prospective bill to be re-directed away from rental assistance that would have covered unpaid rent in favor of providing the funds to attorneys.

The district court’s data clearly proves that rental assistance, not attorneys, will prevent evictions. Maryland’s housing providers recognized this fact early in the pandemic, began requesting state and federal rental assistance in Spring 2020 and once funded, have worked diligently to ensure that residents have access to rental assistance.

Through partnerships with local government and nonprofit organizations as well as proactive approaches that have required countless hours and human resource costs, Maryland’s housing providers have ensured that thousands of residents received rental assistance.

Productive relationship

Take for example Prince George’s County where nearly 2,300 households have received emergency rental assistance — critical to keeping residents in their homes. AOBA and housing providers have worked directly with the Department of Housing to facilitate applications on behalf of thousands of residents.

The department is interested in feedback from housing providers, which has allowed the Prince George’s County application process to constantly improve. This productive working relationship has had a direct beneficial impact on Prince George’s County residents.

These successful efforts to ensure that residents remain housed have not been without difficulty. Throughout the pandemic, there are segments of non-impacted residents who have refused to pay their rent because they mistakenly believed that the government’s policies meant that rent was not required to be paid. As a result, housing providers have been forced to find ways to pay their mortgages and other financial obligations as residents remained housed without paying rent.

Still, over the past 15 months, rental housing providers have been at the forefront of providing and maintaining the state’s most affordable housing and continued to work for their residents to maximize the impact of federal rental assistance.

A healthy rental housing market requires policies that promote investment and participation. Given the $700 million in federal rental assistance that will protect residents, the state must refrain from implementing overly burdensome policies that discourage investment and participation in Maryland’s rental housing market, including those that limit access to Maryland’s impartial judicial system, such as overly burdensome fees and onerous new procedures.

Neither residents nor housing providers benefit from policies that discourage investment in communities across the state.

As Maryland emerges from the pandemic, residents now have access to a tremendous amount of federal rental assistance that will address eviction filings stemming from unpaid rent. Moreover, housing providers have and will continue to work with their residents to access those funds, which will contribute to a robust and healthy housing industry within Maryland for both housing providers and residents alike.

Peggy Jeffers, Esq. is the executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association.