The end of 2021 also means the end of the current application period for the latest round of COVID-19 rental assistance from Montgomery County. 

But county officials said Tuesday that another round of relief — with tens of millions of additional dollars — will be offered in early 2022.

According to the county Department of Health and Human Services’ most recent Pulse Report, the county has spent or budgeted much of its current round of funding of rental assistance from the state and federal government. That includes:

  • $24.2 million out of $31.4 million directly from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program
  • $25.5 million out of $28.1 million in relief funds funneled through Maryland

The county has distributed multiple rounds of rental assistance since the start of the pandemic.

First, County Council Vice President Evan Glass spearheaded $2 million in rental assistance money out of the county budget, which was approved in April 2020.

Since then, the federal government and state officials have provided more than $100 million in assistance, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Congress passed both bills to help with economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Amanda Harris, chief of services to end and prevent homelessness within the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview Tuesday that “it’s highly unlikely” there will be any money left over from existing funds due to demand.

If there were any, she said, it would be rolled over into the county’s next round of funding, which will be announced in early 2022. She didn’t have a specific date.

Montgomery County expects to get $34 million through a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding, directly from the federal government, Harris said. 

But the state hasn’t announced how much money it will receive from the federal government and how it will split that money among various jurisdictions, she added. 

Harris expects that the county will receive roughly the same amount of federal and state money as the current round of funding, but program details aren’t finalized, Harris said. County officials will try to allow money to be used for utility assistance for the upcoming round, she said.

Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said in an interview that the organization is grateful for the relief to thousands of households.

But many who work in the service industry have not fully recovered from the pandemic and owe thousands of dollars due to losing their job or having their hours cut, and could use further help, he said.

“We are eagerly awaiting [the county’s Department of Health and Human Services] to give details on what the new program eligibility will be and how renters can access it … and we trust that HHS will work expeditiously to publicize and provide access to this relief,” Losak said of the upcoming round of funding.

County Council President Gabe Albornoz said in an interview that the county needs to look at homelessness and similar issues with holistic solutions.

Albornoz said that includes making sure that government, nonprofits and other partners share information and data to best help families at risk of homelessness. The county needs proper staffing and tools to help, he added.

Economic development and job training for “people of all degrees and educational backgrounds” are also important, he said. 

Glass said in an interview that even before the pandemic, the county’s rental relief fund was being “maxed out” and many people couldn’t receive assistance. The council needs to consider how much more funding for rental assistance or similar needs should be in the next budget, he said.

What lies ahead

Harris sees more hard times ahead for many families. 

“I never thought there was going to be a tsunami of eviction,” she said. “I think it is just going to be continuous [and] very, very heavy rain.”

Writs for eviction, filed by the sheriff’s office, will remain about the same, but that doesn’t factor in families who voluntarily leave the home they rent and aren’t recorded as formal evictions, Harris said. It’s difficult to track that data, she added.

According to the latest Pulse Report, those writs dropped during the summer months, but ticked back up from October through December. From Aug. 20 to Oct. 15, there were never more than 19 writs in a week. 

Then, for most of the weeks through mid-December, there were more than 20 writs, including a high of 43 writs the week of Dec. 3. County officials have said that on average, less than 8% of writs actually end in an eviction. 

Harris said the guaranteed income pilot program announced and passed by the County Council is another way to help residents. The county also has an eviction prevention and housing stabilization services, she said.

Losak said the state law should be changed to allow local jurisdictions like Montgomery County to implement a “just cause” provision for county landlords who want to evict tenants. It would essentially provide more rights for tenants and require landlords to justify an eviction, he said.

Harris urged those who can’t apply by Friday for the current rental relief deadline to call 311 and ask for the eviction prevention team.

But she said there needs to be more housing that people on minimum wage can afford, Harris said. 

“Unless there is significant investment, and long-term investment from the federal government, I don’t know how we get out of this,” Harris said. “There needs to be more construction of affordable housing units, there needs to be more investment in housing vouchers, and without that, I think this will continue.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com