I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during these challenging times. I’m writing to let you know about a project I’ve been working on for the past few months. In May, I was appointed by Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C.  Smith, Jr. to lead a workgroup focused on housing and COVID-19 and we just issued our report yesterday.

I hope you will take a look at my op-ed that appeared in today’s Baltimore Sun and an article that appeared in yesterday’s Maryland Matters online magazine and Baltimore Fishbowl here.

Roughly 300,000 households are at risk of eviction for fear of being unable to pay rent. We expect the effects of COVID-19 on housing will wreak havoc on Marylanders’ lives in the coming months as economic and anti-eviction safety nets provided by both the federal and State governments recede. This past Saturday has been a day of dread for many Marylanders, for on that date:

·      the federal moratorium on evictions, late fees and penalties was lifted, (applicable to public housing and certain other federally backed housing);

·      670,000 Marylanders ceased receiving a $600 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit from the federal government; and

·      the Maryland Judiciary’s stay for residential evictions was lifted. The Judiciary began processing warrants of restitution for failure to pay rent actions of those cases pending before the pandemic and will begin to hear failure to pay rent cases in Phase IV, beginning August, 31, 2020

Over the past few months, a workgroup of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has been meeting (virtually) with experts and housing professionals about the impact of the coronavirus on residential housing in Maryland. Our report outlines the findings of the workgroup as well as a series of recommendations about how to address what we believe is an impending crisis. The list is not exhaustive, but implementing these policy changes would mitigate, and perhaps even eliminate, material risks in health and safety to some of the most vulnerable among us at this unprecedented time in our State’s history.

The workgroup heard from and took written testimony from a wide variety of stakeholders: landlords, tenants, banks and credit unions, tenant and landlord advocates, and members of the legal community who are involved in landlord–tenant issues. It is enormously significant that this diverse group of stakeholders came to consensus on two of our most important recommendations: (1) there should be a robust and transparent publicly supported rental assistance program; and (2) landlord–tenant litigants should have access to publicly funded legal services.

A majority of the workgroup also recommends that the Governor continue to maintain his Executive Orders on a moratorium on evictions and preventing the disconnection of essential utilities including gas, electricity, water and internet, and implement an order preventing the accumulation of late fees for failure to pay rent. We call on the Judiciary to create legal services pilot program explore expanding its mediation services for landlord tenant litigants. In addition, we are concerned about the long-lasting stain that an eviction judgment could have on a tenant’s credit report and are asking the Judiciary for recommendations on how best to prevent this from contributing to a downward spiral for those who are struggling to pay rent because of COVID-19.

As always, I continue to update the community about how COVID-19 is affecting our District with my reports on data. I post these charts each day on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, reflecting updates from the Maryland Department of Health. As I hope you have heard, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced last week that we are required to wear a mask in most indoor settings in Baltimore County. If you’re interested in the interpretive guidance of that rule, you can learn more here.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or would like to get a test, you can go to a number of sites around the county, but these are county operated sites that you may visit without a doctor’s prescription —

  • As you also may have heard, the Baltimore County Public Schools announced that classes will be virtual from September 8th to January 29, 2021. You can read more about the BCPS reopening plan here.
  • Summer meal distribution is being provided in 85 locations throughout the county. To find out where/when, please check here.
  • The Community College of Baltimore County also announced that certain students may be eligible for free tuition. You can learn more about it here.
Rest assured that we will continue to work on your behalf. I  encourage you to share your views with me on the important issues before us – and let us know how you are faring during this pandemic by emailing our office at shelly.hettleman@senate.state.md.us.
I wish you and your family a safe, happy & healthy remainder of summer.

Shelly Hettleman

Senator, District 11