Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Ana Laura has struggled to keep cupboards and her fridge full of food in her Germantown home.
Laura used to work full-time at the GW Supermarket in Germantown. When the pandemic began, she became more worried about whether her interactions with people at the store were safe for herself and people around her.
On Thursday, Laura urged Montgomery County Council members to pass legislation proposed by Council Member Will Jawando, extending protections for renters due to the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some might think the pandemic is winding down, Laura said, but she sees evidence of its toll on renters constantly.
“I see white people, Black people, Hispanic people with all their stuff on the streets because they were evicted. … So, yeah, it’s still affecting us, and it doesn’t discriminate,” Laura said through a translator.
She and other members of CASA de Maryland, an advocacy group for immigrants, gathered with elected officials outside the County Council office building in Rockville at a rally to support Jawando’s legislation.
The bill would extend provisions that prevent landlords from raising rent more than the “voluntary rent guidelines” — set each year by the county executive, currently at 1.4% — and charging late fees. Under the bill, those protections for tenants would apply through Aug. 12, 2022.
Landlords do not have to return late fees already collected during the pandemic, the legislation states.
Jawando introduced the bill in July, and it is not assigned to any committee. A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 1:30 p.m. Because the bill is expedited legislation, it would take effect as soon as County Executive Marc Elrich signs it.
Eliseo Magos, a CASA de Maryland member at Thursday’s rally, said many renters during the pandemic might be able to pay back rent due during the pandemic. However, late fees can be difficult for some to pay, especially given the industries that immigrants work in, Mangos said.
“Most of our community works in restaurants, [and] they have a loss of jobs,” Mangos said. “Some of them have just lost some hours, but most of our community has lost their job completely.”
Alex Vazquez, a community organizer with CASA de Maryland, has heard from several people who are “hanging on to basically a piece of thread on having a roof over their head.”
Even though the county is distributing rent relief money to tenants, many landlords are not willing to wait for the money, or are not willing to go through the overall process to help tenants receive funds, he said.
And even with that relief money, people are still looking for full-time work, he said. People were struggling to make ends meet even before the pandemic, which just compounded their problems, he added.
Residents are not being hired back full-time, or are afraid to go back to work because of health-related reasons, Vazquez added.
“I think there’s this perception that we’re kind of just getting out of the pandemic, and that there’s a lot of money out there for people to be able to get back onto their feet,” Vazquez said. “And the reality is there’s still a lot of people … in Montgomery County communities, who are feeling the effect.”
“Before the pandemic, people were still struggling to just make ends meet,” he added. “The pandemic really, really took people that were just floating above the water and took them underneath.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org