New round of Covid-19 grants should help renters

Tenants who can’t pay their rent because of Covid-related loss of income can apply for help from new rounds of grant funds awarded to Wicomico County.

The most recent — $300,000 from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development – must be spent by Dec. 31, and county officials are sure they can spend it all before the deadline.

“We have over 150 applications in the waiting process with Salisbury Neighborhood Housing,” Jesse Drewer, a county planner told Wicomico County Council members last week.

That number had increased to 200 a few days later, said Cheryl Meadows, Executive Director of Salisbury Neighborhood Housing, whose office has been swamped with requests for help from tenants and landlords.

“It grows every day,” she said. “As soon as we walk in the door, the phone is ringing.”

As of Monday, Meadows said she had cut checks for $37,000 and planned to process $55,more by the end of the week.

Under the grant, renters are eligible to receive up to nine months rent to pay for eight months in arrears, plus the current month. The grant can also cover past due amounts for electric and water bills if those are included in the lease, Meadows said.

The money is being awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.

Unlike some other grants that have come to the county, there are no income restrictions for applicants who need only to bring a statement from their landlord, Drewer said.

The federal money from the Corona Relief Emergency Fund is being divided among three nonprofit agencies to distribute: $200,000 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing and $50,000 each to Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County and the Wicomico County Local Management Board.

Tenants who need help may call Amanda Smith at Salisbury Neighborhood Housing at 410-543-4626, Habitat for Humanity at 410-546-1551 or the Local Management Board at 443-359-2265.

Recently, the county also was awarded a $900,000 Maryland Eviction Prevention Partnership grant, but that money probably won’t become available until January, Meadows said.

The grant will be available to both city and county residents, but there will be income restrictions, she said.

In March, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency order that prohibits Maryland courts from ordering the eviction of any tenant who can demonstrate that their inability to pay rent was the result of Covid-19—for example, because of lost or reduced unemployment, or needing to care for a school-aged child—or because they are diagnosed with, or under investigation for, Covid-19. The order remains in effect during the state of emergency. 

Meadows said tenants affected by Covid who get eviction notices need to go to court with a signed declaration that they can find on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. They also should demonstrate they have made attempts to apply for relief.

Since the start of the pandemic, the city and county have received and spent prior grant funds to help renters.

A few months ago, the city of Salisbury received a $90,000 Community Development Block Grant that was used to help 35 families, Meadows said. Earlier grants also went to Habitat for Humanity and the Local Management Board to help renters outside city limits.

At last week’s meeting, County Council President Larry Dodd said he would like to see grants aimed at helping homeowners who have suffered Covid-related income loss, too.

“I’d hate to see a lot of foreclosures,” he said.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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