Homeowners, renters in Md. struggling with payments during pandemic

Many homeowners and renters continue to fall behind on monthly payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a renewed push to ensure they don’t lose their homes or get evicted.

Maryland has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, according to Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who is hopeful that states will get more help addressing housing issues in President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief package working its way through Congress.

Speaking with state lawmakers during a virtual meeting on Tuesday, the Democrat noted that by the end of last year, the delinquency rate on residential properties was 8.8%.

“That means Maryland is ranked fifth-worst in terms of mortgage delinquencies throughout the country,” he said.

While Van Hollen said he’s encouraged by the latest mortgage relief announced by Biden, he notes that many renters remain at risk. He pointed to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which estimated 214,000 renters in Maryland were at risk of eviction.

That would be one in 10 of those who rent.

A federal moratorium on rental evictions is scheduled to expire on March 31.

“What we’re all worried about, of course, is a tsunami of rental payments becoming due,” he said.

While Maryland has suspended evictions during the pandemic, housing advocates note that landlords have found legal loopholes and that many tenants don’t know their legal rights. That has led people to still be evicted, sometimes forcing them to live in more-crowded living conditions.

Van Hollen noted that can be a health hazard, given the spread of COVID-19.

The president’s pandemic-relief plan would provide an additional $25 billion to states, to help with rental assistance programs.

Maryland received $402 million for its rental assistance in the relief legislation that Congress passed in December, Van Hollen said. (Virginia, meanwhile, received $524 million).

Still, state lawmakers say more needs to be done to ensure people aren’t forced out of their homes.

State Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, D-Montgomery County, pointed to various pieces of legislation that the General Assembly will be considering soon.

These include measures that would extend the prohibition on rental evictions through the end of the year, as well as prohibit landlords from raising the rent during the pandemic. They are included in a 2021 Housing Justice Package put together by Democratic lawmakers.

Wilkins pointed out that health experts have been advising people to stay home as much as possible, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Now we need to work to do everything that we can to make sure that Marylanders are able to stay home and be safe,” she said.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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