By Deborah Bailey,
With rental housing on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes and evictions in Prince George’s County increasing at an alarming rate, County Council members are aggressively looking toward sustainable solutions for the 40 percent of county residents who are renters.
The Council is working on adding to its security system of protections for at-risk renters by setting up a County Rental Assistance Program (CB-24-2023) prohibiting rent gouging (i.e. sudden increases in rent) and aiding modest income Prince George’s County residents. The bill is still in committee after public hearings last week and is expected to come before the full council this spring, said a spokesperson for the Council press office.
“Residents are suffering because of rent increases, and rent stabilization creates stability so renters know that they are not going to wake up and their rent is doubled,” said Council member Crystal Oriadha (District 7). Oriadha successfully sponsored legislation earlier to help renters on a temporary basis until the County can provide long term solutions.
Starting April 17, The Temporary Rent Stabilization Act (CB-007-2023), sponsored by Oraidha, will restrict property owners from raising tenant rental rates above three percent over a 12-month period. The law is only temporary and set to expire in a year.
In the meantime, the Council is hustling to organize a permanent plan to address rising rent rates, inflation, and an increasing eviction rate. The Rent Stabilization Act mandates creation of a working group to study rent control and find permanent solutions for addressing the rising cost of rental housing.
“We want Prince Georgians to have access to affordable, habitable, and fair housing and this bill gets us closer to that goal,” Oriadha continued.
An emergency moratorium on evictions and other related protections for renters put in place by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) during the height of the pandemic was lifted by the Supreme Court in late August 2021.
Emergency rental assistance for Marylanders is no longer taking new applications but County Councilmember Jolene Ivey, (District 5) Committee on Planning, Housing and Economic Development Chair, said funds may still exist.
Ivey, with her spouse, Congressman Glenn Ivey (MD-4), are going directly to residents and standing in the gap while the county government lays the groundwork to support the rental community.
Their recently held Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention workshop at First Baptist Church of Highland Park brought scores of renters and homeowners together to learn what resources are available as federal and state Covid related funding ends.
Ivey said more than 17,000 Marylanders are at risk of evictions, with the highest percentages of those in Prince George’s County.
“It turns out there is help available, but people didn’t seem to know about it,” Ivey said.
“I have never hosted or been at an event where people found such relief. Sometimes residents even found out they were told falsely that they were going to be evicted. People were relieved to be in a setting where they could get some straight answers about their situation,” Ivey concluded
Close to 20 percent of Prince George’s County residents face severe housing problems, according to data from The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.
The report defines severe housing problems as “housing inadequacies: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities, or lack of plumbing facilities.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said legislation like the Rent Stabilization Act and upcoming legislation establishing the county’s rental assistance support framework will help stop the bleeding as County officials work out long-term solutions to affordable housing for both homeowners and renters.
“This legislation is extremely important to all of us. We refuse to let any Prince Georgian be priced out of their home, that’s what this is about,” said Alsobrooks at a press conference announcing the county’s plan to get ahead of rapidly rising rental prices.