5,400 ask for help to prevent evictions in Montgomery Co.

Weeks after members of the Montgomery County Council criticized County Executive Marc Elrich on what they said was the lack of information on where funds for coronavirus relief in the Maryland county were going, the council got an update.

Amanda Harris, chief of the Special Needs Housing division of the Department of Health and Human Services, said 5,400 applications for eviction prevention have been received.

She said 2,200 applicants will be getting “conditional award letters” to present to their landlords.

“That will relieve a lot of pressure” for the tenants to prove “that the money is coming,” Harris said.

Some 25% of applicants have been denied for a variety of reasons.

“It is quite high,” Harris said. “Higher than we had expected.”

On the bulk of denials, 13% are because renters aren’t actually behind on their payments to their landlords, so they don’t qualify. Others can’t prove a loss of income due to the coronavirus, and another 8% don’t meet the threshold for percentage of income paid for rent.

“Our eligibility criteria is that they pay 50% for rent — we are looking at dropping that to 40%” in order to help those hardest-hit by the pandemic.

Harris said processing the applications has taken longer than expected due in part to phone-related issues. She said staff members often get so many calls from applicants either trying to sign up or checking on pending applications that they fall behind.

And, she said, the fact that the county staff members are working from home and using phone numbers that don’t appear to be county government telephone numbers has been an issue.

“Most of our staff are teleworking, so they’re not calling from a county line. They’re just calling from a random number, and people don’t answer random numbers.”

Harris said they’re working on getting the word out that applicants could be getting the call they’ve been waiting for.

She said the need for help in covering rent and staving off evictions is, “Not like a tsumani; it’s more like a steady rain.” And she said the county needs to consider long-term help for residents once the Coronavirus Relief Fund is depleted.

Council members also got a briefing from County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who said that COVID-19 numbers are ticking upward yet again, with the positivity rate at 2.9%, and the case rate is hovering at 11 per 100,000.

Gayles said he is keeping an eye on the possibility of reintroducing restrictions on late-night alcohol sales in restaurants.

On Oct. 1, the county started allowing restaurants to resume selling alcohol between 10 p.m. and midnight, but Gayles and Earl Stoddard have warned that should the county’s COVID-19 numbers spike, they could reverse that. Stoddard is the Director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Gayles was asked about guidance for families hoping to get together for the holidays. Council member Hans Riemer noted that he’s hoping to enjoy Thanksgiving with family, and that they recently received COVID-19 tests with an eye toward keeping safe for the holiday.

Gayles said that for those considering family gatherings, getting tested before Thanksgiving is a good precaution, and added that people should quarantine while awaiting test results, “So that you can feel more comfortable and confident that when you are interfacing with your family members or others, that you are truly negative and there’s no risk of transmission.”

Gayles and Stoddard said the county will have more guidance around planning for the holidays soon.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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