Until the pandemic, Gamal Martinez Calderón said he hadn’t missed a rent payment in the 14 years he’d been in the United States.
He worked in remodeling, but lost his job due to a car accident. He returned to work, but then Covid-19 struck, and he lost work again. Now he’s three months late on rent.
“Everything has gone well until now,” said Martinez Calderón, 45.
Originally from the Honduran countryside, his mother took him and his siblings to San Pedro Sula after his father died so she could make a living. At 31, he came to the U.S. in order to provide a better life for his four kids.
“Something like this has never happened to me,” he said. “This virus has hurt me and my family.”
Speaking with The Brew in Spanish yesterday ahead of a rally organized by CASA de Maryland and other groups, Calderón said his landlord has posted messages on the door of the two-story rowhouse he rents for $800 per month, threatening fees for nonpayment.
Such fees are supposedly illegal under a law that Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young signed last month
“Too little, too late”
Calderón is not alone. According to CASA, 146,000 Marylanders are facing eviction.
The organization is pushing for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to spend $150 million on rent assistance – far more than the $30 million he allocated last week – along with other demands, including extending the eviction moratorium by a year in order to prevent a wave of homelessness.
This week, the Young administration set aside $15 million for rent assistance in Baltimore, while saying the amount is not enough to meet expected demand.
“Our governor should be ashamed of himself, quite frankly” – Delegate Stephanie Smith.
At the rally, outside the District Court of Maryland on East Fayette Street, Martinez Calderón told his story through a megaphone. Wearing a red CASA shirt and a black mask, he called on Hogan to spend far more.
“We need them to help us pay the rent,” he said.
Speaking at the rally, Delegate Stephanie Smith (D, 45th) noted Maryland’s status as the richest state in a rich country. She called Hogan’s actions to help renters “too little, too late.”
“Our governor should be ashamed of himself, quite frankly,” Smith said. “If you can’t make sure that we are not out on the street, then who can?”
Eviction Cases Resuming
All that’s now keeping Martinez Calderón’s family in their home is a Hogan executive order that stops landlords from evicting tenants who can’t pay due to the pandemic.
The order is in effect until 90 days after Hogan lifts the state of emergency. But Martinez Calderón may still have to prove his case in court if his landlord seeks to evict him.
Hogan’s order only covers those directly affected by the pandemic, so if you were behind on your rent before March, or if you lost your job for another reason, your only protection is that the courts are still partially closed.
On July 25, Maryland courts resume hearing eviction cases from before the pandemic. Even if renters can prove Covid put them out of work, showing up to court to defend themselves can be a challenge.
“There’s going to be a big wave of people,” predicted Cat Paul, a research and policy analyst at CASA.
Even though evictions are illegal for the time being, some landlords are still kicking tenants out – or at least intimidating them like Martinez Calderón’s.
“The stories that I get from tenants are just really frightening,” Carol Ott, tenant advocacy director for the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, said at a legislative committee hearing this week.
She said Covid did not by any means create housing instability, but it has “shone a spotlight on a deeply flawed, deeply racist housing system.”
“The stories that I get from tenants are just really frightening” – Carol Ott of the Fair Housing Action Center.
In an interview with The Brew, she questioned why the state wouldn’t make sure everyone has stable housing because of the physical and mental health risks of homelessness. It’s cheaper to help people on the front end, she pointed out.
Ott’s workload has doubled this year, and she’s seen a large uptick in complaints from Black women, especially those with children. She said there’s not nearly enough accountability for landlords, in part because many lawmakers are landlords themselves.
“The landlord-tenant relationship, particularly in Baltimore City, is really out of whack in terms of power,” she said.