MARYLAND MATTERS: Franchot Demands State Officials Speed Up Rent Relief Disbursement, Calls For More Detailed Data

Bennett Leckrone

SEP 15, 2021

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) grilled a state housing official over the state’s sluggish rent relief disbursement at a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, and said “not one family should be evicted” while the state has access to hundreds of millions in federal relief funding.

State and local governments in Maryland received roughly $401 million from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP 1) as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed late last year, and are slated to receive another $352 million (ERAP 2) from the more recent American Rescue Plan Act.

But disbursement of ERAP 1 funding has been slow: $59.5 million of that funding had been distributed as of July, according to data from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and another $36.5 million payments were being processed. That figure is likely to tick up for August, since rent relief disbursement has been increasing since state and local governments first started disbursing ERAP 1 in March.

Franchot pressed Department of Housing and Community Development Deputy Secretary Owen McEvoy for more detailed data about rent relief in the state at Wednesday’s meeting, including information on how many evictions are pending after state and federal moratoriums were lifted.

“I think we can all agree it’s a serious problem if even one family gets evicted when we have that amount of money that can, in theory, tide them over,” Franchot said.

According to the National Equity Atlas, there are roughly 117,000 households behind on rent in Maryland with an estimated $402,700,000 in rent debt. Roughly 75% of tenants behind on rent in Maryland are people of color according to the National Equity Atlas, 58% are unemployed and 80% have an annual income of less than $50,000.

Franchot also asked whether the DHCD would institute “statewide policies” on how quickly local governments should be disbursing funds. He said he believes the state could be on the edge of an eviction crisis.

McEvoy said rent relief programs are still ramping up, and he expects disbursement figures to get “significantly better” in the coming months. He also added that the state distributed more than $113 million in local, state and federal funds to roughly 30,000 tenants prior to the ERAP program. Landlords who accept rent relief funding aren’t allowed to evict a tenant for a certain time period after receiving rent relief funding under a DHCD policy, McEvoy said.

He added that the ERAP funding has a “different set of rules that local jurisdictions are working to catch up on.” Federal red tape and cumbersome applications have contributed to slow rent relief disbursement, local officials have said.

“We don’t want one person to be evicted in this crisis with the amount of resources that are available,” McEvoy said.

Franchot, however, said evictions are still being filed and are moving forward despite the rent relief funding. State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) suggested the DHCD prepare a presentation for the Board of Public Works on evictions and rent relief funding. Franchot said the judiciary should also participate, since evictions are being processed at the same time as state and local officials are looking to speed up rent relief. McEvoy agreed to put a presentation together.

Fair housing advocates have argued that rent relief funding alone won’t be enough to prevent evictions, and have urged state lawmakers, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and members of Congress to extend recently expired protections for tenants. WBAL reported earlier this week that some landlords have been reluctant to accept rent relief funding over provisions that temporarily prevent evictions after that funding is accepted.

Advocates for landlords have said that new protections for tenants are unnecessary since courts are backed up and evictions have been slow-moving.

McEvoy said state officials are currently tabulating rent relief disbursement data from August.