Severe housing emergency during lockdown demands state action

house_symbol.pngProgressive Maryland/Marylanders United, two sibling groups developing mutual aid networks and advocating state and local policy actions to meet the needs of working families during the coronavirus pandemic, held their fourth statewide virtual meeting Thursday, May 7.

Topping the agenda was an increasingly acute set of housing issues. Hear from Del. Jheanelle Wilkins and housing activists on what actions we demand, and see 50 Delegates' letter to the governor.



 

Progressive Maryland/Marylanders United, two sibling groups developing mutual aid networks and advocating state and local policy actions to meet the needs of working families during the coronavirus pandemic, held their fourth statewide virtual meeting Thursday, May 7.

Topping the agenda was an increasingly acute set of housing issues. Around 400,000 Marylanders have applied for unemployment benefits due to layoffs or furloughs, and many more are still struggling to get through on the state’s flimsy one-stop online portal. Their ability to make rent or mortgage payments is clearly affordable_housing_art.jpgcompromised, and Del. Jheanelle Wilkins and 49 other colleagues have sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan insisting on policy initiatives to stabilize their access to housing. It is reprinted below. It is also the core message of an online petition to Hogan that individual Maryland residents can sign on to.

The 60-plus participants in the virtual meeting also heard from advocates for housing and the homeless in the Capital region, Jayne Park and Christine Hong.

Del. Wilkins led off asserting that state officials and policy makers had to “work now and think ahead” in Maryland, a high-cost housing state in the top ten of states where unemployment insurance did not come close to covering the cost of shelter. The letter and petition urge Hogan take “robust and aggressive action” to move beyond a temporary halt on evictions to canceling rent and mortgages short-term and imposing stretch-out payment plans and forgiveness terms for rent and mortgages. Tenants’ fates should not be “at the mercy of whether or not your landlord is a good person,” Wilkins declared. So we “want to build up the momentum around this issue.”

Two activists from nonprofits engaged in mutual-aid network building also presented to the meeting. Jayne Park of Impact Silver Spring is focused on relief for immigrants, many undocumented, who are less eligible for the state and federal funds extended to others. Many, she said, are trapped in crowded apartments by the stay-home order where social distancing is much harder to attain. At Impact’s urging the state has deployed “Go Teams” in MoCo to assist some of these most vulnerable.
Christine Hong is director of homeless services at Interfaith Works; much of recent work there has been gaining more shelter space so that social distancing could be available to MoCo’s highly vulnerable unhoused population. Vacant hotels have also been secured to isolate exposed or ill members of that community. Next step is to secure permanent housing, especially in private homes where a room can be made available. Here are links to support Impact and to Interfaith’s Mother’s Day Fund.

Watch for our announcement of the next Marylanders United statewide virtual meeting, Thursday, May 14. Here is a link to last Thursday’s virtual meeting, streamed.

Here is the letter from 50 members of the House of Delegates. It is also the message in a petition to the governor that anyone can sign.

 

April 29, 2020

homelessness.jpgDear Governor Hogan,

Thank you for your leadership during these difficult times and the proactive actions you have taken to save countless lives.

As you know, the global pandemic has strained household budgets and driven many of our neighbors toward financial ruin. Nearly 300,000 Marylanders have filed for unemployment insurance, and many more are struggling to pay their bills. The coronavirus will continue to unleash economic hardship on millions of Marylanders for months and years to come. Bold action is necessary to mitigate this financial devastation.

We therefore urge you to implement aggressive housing relief measures, such as cancelling rent and mortgage payments for businesses and residents affected by COVID-19. We applaud your implementation of eviction and foreclosure moratoria, but this is not enough to protect Maryland residents. Even after life starts to return to normal, many Marylanders will not be able to pay the rent or mortgage payments owed or accumulated during the crisis. You must act now to prevent a wave of evictions and foreclosures.

Residents should not have to shoulder the financial burden alone, and your actions can help reduce the compounding effect of this crisis. In addition to rent and mortgage cancellation, we urge you to take executive action to require renewal of expiring leases, prohibit rent increases and late fees, and require that landlords negotiate reasonable, long-term payment plans. Finally, the undersigned urge the creation of a robust housing relief fund for renters and homeowners alike.

The enormous financial burden of paying for housing costs should not be disproportionately borne by residents – renters and homeowners – least capable of sustaining the housing market and going up against the powerful entities lobbying the federal government for relief.

Thank you again for your aggressive suite of executive orders. Marylanders are now counting on bold action to keep them afloat.

Sincerely,

Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, District 20

Delegate Gabriel Acevero, District 39

Delegate Dalya Attar, District 41

Delegate Vanessa E. Atterbeary, District 13

Delegate Heather Bagnall, District 33

Delegate Darryl Barnes, District 25

Delegate Erek Barron, District 24

Delegate J. Sandy Bartlett, District 32

Delegate Lisa Belcastro, District 11

Delegate Harry Bhandari, District 8

Delegate Regina T. Boyce, District 43

Delegate Tony Bridges, District 41

Delegate Al Carr, District 18

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, District 20house_symbol.png

Delegate Nick Charles, District 25

Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, District 19

Delegate Bonnie Cullison, District 19

Delegate Debra Davis, District 28

Delegate Eric Ebersole, District 12

Delegate Jessica Feldmark, District 12

Delegate Diana Fennell, District 47A

Delegate Wanika Fisher, District 47B

Delegate Andrea Fletcher Harrison, District 24

Delegate Shaneka Henson, District 30

Delegate Terri Hill, District 12

Delegate Julian Ivey, District 47A

Delegate Carl Jackson, District 8

Delegate Michael Jackson, District 27B

Delegate Dr. Jay Jalisi, District 10

Delegate Mary Lehman, District 21

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, District 46

Delegate Brooke Lierman, District 46

Delegate Lesley Lopez, District 39

Delegate David Moon, District 20

Delegate Nick Mosby, District 40

Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr, District 17

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnk, District 21

Delegate Kirill Reznik, District 39

Delegate Mike Rogers, District 32

Delegate Sheila Ruth, District 44B

Delegate Emily Shetty, District 18

Delegate Stephanie M. Smith, District 45

Delegate Jared Solomon, District 18

Delegate Vaughn Stewart, District 19

Delegate Jen Terrasa, District 13

Delegate Veronica Turner, District 26

Delegate Alonzo T. Washington, District 22

Delegate Melissa R. Wells, District 40

Delegate Nicole Williams, District 22

Delegate Karen Lewis Young, District 3A