Over $20M in federal and state emergency rental assistance for Wicomico County to assist residents in need with rent and utility payments has almost completely run out while thousands of households are behind on rent.
State DHCD data show that the County assisted only 216 households in the last quarter of 2022, after averaging nearly 900 per quarter earlier in the year.
According to the National Equity Atlas analysis of U.S. Census data, 2,750 households were behind on rent as of mid-December in Wicomico County, with a cumulative rent debt of $4.6M.
The County has closed its emergency rental assistance program as it works through what could be its final round of assistance. Meanwhile, in Annapolis, legislators are being asked this week to supplement Gov. Moore’s budget to help prevent loss of housing.
The Maryland Emergency Rental Assistance Coalition has estimated that Maryland needs to allocate $175M in the FY24 budget to assist approximately 20,000 households in avoiding evictions.
For residents who are behind on rent, Maryland Legal Aid’s Assistant Advocacy Director for Access to Counsel in Evictions (ACE) Zafar Shah says “emergency rental assistance is crucial, but it’s not the only important resource. If a tenant is sued for non-payment of rent, they should quickly reach out for legal help and then make sure to come to court.”
Under Maryland’s new Access to Counsel in Evictions law, low-income renters have a right to attorney representation in any eviction case. According to Maryland Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Jaime Miliman, the combination of legal representation with rental assistance is one of the most effective ways to prevent homelessness. She recently represented a renter whose landlord received over $5,000 of rental assistance and still proceeded with obtaining an eviction order. MLA stopped the eviction before it was too late. Ms. Miliman sees many cases in which renters are unaware that their landlords are obtaining multiple judgments for the same back rent or adding fees into the rent in violation of state law or the tenant’s lease. Because a review of the lease and accounting is time consuming, it is important for renters to seek legal assistance as soon as they receive notice of a court date.
WHERE & WHEN:
Every Friday from 9:00AM – 12:00PM at the Dorchester District Court located at
206 High Street, Cambridge, Maryland
MLA’s ACE Program currently serves Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester Counties and clients can visit our two offices on the Eastern Shore, located at 201 E Main Street, Salisbury, MD 21801 or 106 N. Washington Street, Suite 101, Easton, MD 21601 if they cannot get to the Dorchester District Court.
For more information, contact MLA’s intake line at 1-888-465-2468. To qualify for a free lawyer, individuals must be a Maryland renter with household income at or below 50% of Maryland’s median income.
About Maryland Legal Aid
Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free, civil legal services to people experiencing poverty. MLA handles cases addressing the most fundamental needs of its clients, including family, housing, income support, healthcare, employment, and consumer law. MLA also represents children in CINA (Child in Need of Assistance) proceedings and other vulnerable populations, including homeowners facing foreclosure, migrant and seasonal farm workers, people with developmental and mental health disabilities, nursing home and assisted living residents, and veterans seeking benefits. MLA’s Community Lawyering Initiative, which includes its Lawyer in the Library program, provides advice and assistance with expungement of criminal records and other vital civil legal matters through community-based clinics.