Evan Glass

Residents in Montgomery County who do not have eviction protection during the pandemic will soon be eligible for rental relief from a $2 million fund.

The County Council unanimously approved spending the money to help residents who live under informal housing agreements — such as renting a room — not protected under Gov. Larry Hogan’s April 3 orders halting residential evictions during the public health emergency.

Council Member Evan Glass, who spearheaded the rent relief proposal, said at the council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday that the funds will be available to anyone who meets the criteria, regardless of their immigration status.

“The last thing we want is for more people to experience homelessness,” he said at the meeting.

Six people from the community spoke in support of the rental assistance during a virtual public hearing on Tuesday.

Ana Martinez of CASA de Maryland said the organization’s hotline is filled with people calling who can’t pay their rent.

“The communities of color have been hit the hardest in all respects,” she told the council. “Our immigrant communities were already struggling before and this is pushing people over the edge.”

Resident Rosa Begazo, who testified through a Spanish translator, said she has a disability and was cleaning for her job, but she is now unable to work because of the pandemic. All four members of her family work independently, but, because of the nature of their jobs, haven’t been able to work the past two months.

Begazo said her family doesn’t have money to pay their rent. She asked the council to approve the funds to help families like hers.

Resident Carol Leiva asked that the council double the amount to meet the “enormous need” for low-income families to avoid homelessness.

“We are only as strong as our most vulnerable residents,” she told the council.

Mary Kolar of the Montgomery Housing Alliance asked the council to increase the funding to $10 million.

“Half of tenants in Montgomery County are already cost-burdened,” she told the council. “Even before the crisis, these families often sacrifice other critical needs, such as adequate food and health care, in order to make rent.”

The additional funds would help affordable housing providers to have the cash they need to avoid default and maintain the residential buildings and to provide a longer term of assistance for renters, she said.

Council Members Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer said the council will have to continue to do more to help vulnerable residents. People who aren’t eligible for state and federal aid make up the “one community that really falls through a huge gap,” Riemer said at the meeting.

“We need to step up in a big way, so that everyone who lives in this county benefits from an aggressive government response to help them move forward and recover from this disaster,” he said at the meeting.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.


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