A Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development program that uses federal block grants to stop COVID-19 related evictions is not working so well, said Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian and County Administrator Shelley Heller at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
So far not a penny of the $84,000 announced by Gov. Larry Hogan for Kent County on July 20 has been spent to help tenants behind on their rent under the Maryland Eviction Prevention Partnership grant program. Close to $2.3 million was announced for eight counties in a first round of eviction prevention funding.
“It sounds really good until you try to use it,” Fithian said. “But there’s so many strings attached to it that it’s my understanding it’s probably not going to be utilized.”
Fithian said the approval process was cumbersome and that only two of the 24 families in Kent that applied to the program could possibly qualify.
The application and required documents for assistance is 25 pages long and puts restrictions on landlords in order to receive the money. Payments are made directly to the landlords once an application is approved.
For instance, if a landlord is behind on her property taxes then the renter’s application can be denied.
The application is also very stringent for what constitutes COVID-19 related financial distress.
On Sept. 9 Hogan announced another round of $16 million that all Maryland’s jurisdictions could apply for. Fithian said the county would not be applying for the second round for good reason.
He said it made no sense to apply for the second round if money from the first round was not being awarded to the people that need it.
“If there was something out there we could apply for to help the citizenry we would do it,” he said.
Heller agreed that going after the second round was not an efficient use of resources.
“It doesn’t appear to be an effective way to reach the people that need it the most,” Heller said.
Kent County applied for the Eviction Prevention Partnership grant with help from its nonprofit partner, Maryland Rural Development Corporation, which works with clients to get their application approved using the DHCD guidelines.
The same application process MRDC uses now is under consideration for use in applying for remaining CAREs Act funds made available earlier this year to deal with COVID-19.
Heller said renters needing rent relief could apply for the CAREs Act funds through MRDC if they fail to qualify under the Maryland Eviction Prevention Partnership grant program.
MRDC would continue to be the administrative partner with the county.
The commissioners have a short list of projects for the CAREs Act funds, among them is rent relief, which will be discussed at the Oct. 6 meeting.