Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is urging Gov. Larry Hogan to keep in place a moratorium on evictions beyond Aug. 15 due to an economy still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hogan announced on Tuesday that he is lifting Maryland’s state of emergency on July 1, meaning that all remaining pandemic restrictions will be lifted.
Select pandemic-related policies will remain in place during a 45-day grace period until Aug. 15, including a moratorium on evictions for renters who suffered a “substantial loss of income” during the pandemic, according to the order.
Elrich, during a virtual media briefing on Wednesday, said county officials didn’t know Hogan was lifting the state of emergency until he made the announcement on Tuesday.
He said lifting restrictions is “basically justifiable,” but he wishes Hogan tied the phasing out of the evictions moratorium to metrics on economic recovery in the state. Aug. 15, he suggested, might be too soon to lift the moratorium.
“I hope the governor will think about this, extend the moratorium a little bit longer, give us a metric and let’s all prepare for the point where we can actually say we’ve had an economic recovery,” he said.
Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci wrote in a statement to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that the eviction moratorium is included in the administrative grace period.
“And we encourage the county executive to expedite distribution of the rent relief that both the state and the federal government have provided,” Ricci wrote.
Elrich announced last month that the county was expecting more than $60 million combined between state and federal rental relief for residents and businesses affected by the pandemic, which followed an announcement in April about $31 million in federal funding the county would receive.
As of Monday, the county had distributed slightly more than $1.5 million out of $31.4 million that had come in from the federal government.
Elrich has said multiple times this year that he has been closely watching Hogan’s decision on whether to lift the evictions moratorium. In March, he and other state leaders asked the governor to extend the moratorium through September even though Hogan had not indicated at that time when the state of emergency would be lifted.
On Wednesday, Elrich said it’s clear that despite continually improving COVID-19 health metrics, the local economy hasn’t bounced back.
“We may be approaching a new health normal, but we’re still not approaching the old economy normal. And until then, things like rental assistance and protection from evictions are gonna remain really important,” he said.
Elrich added that many renters who have been evicted aren’t showing up to attend their court hearings. He pointed out that renters who have been evicted have defenses, such as not being able to pay their bills due to the loss of a job.
“It’s critical that people show up and explain to judges why they’re not able to pay their rent,” he said.
Elrich said last month that about 20% of evicted tenants were showing up to their hearings, up from 3% earlier this spring, according to court observers.
Elrich also said Hogan should keep in place the $300-per week federal unemployment benefits set to end July 3. The phasing out of the benefits, Elrich said, should be tied to unemployment metrics.
“The $300 a week he proposes to take away is money the people would have spent on businesses in the state of Maryland,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org