Ashanti Martinez, CASA Prince Georges County Policy Analyst For CASA speaks at a recent event to launch the PG County Housing Justice Coalition. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Community-based organizations, non-profit organizations and advocates across Prince George’s County launched the Prince George’s County Housing Justice Coalition this week at CASA headquarters in Hyattsville.

The Coalition was founded to bring attention to affordable housing needs for immigrant and working class families of Prince George’s County. The group will also press the County for housing solutions that meet the needs of low and moderate income Prince George’s County residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards.

“We are not meeting the needs of housing for all of our residents,” said CASA Policy Analyst Ashanti Martinez, who kicked off the Housing Justice Coalition event.

“We are in desperate need not only to preserve the County’s current housing, but to invest in new housing and services for generations to come,” Martinez said.

Prince George’s County Council woman Jolene Ivey announced her intent to introduce a rent stabilization plan.

“Soon the pandemic State of Emergency may be lifted, but that won’t mean that every family’s and every rent-payer’s emergency will be over,” Ivey said.

Ivey is expecting the Prince George’s County Council to adopt measures similar to localities and states across the nation, like New York and California, who have implemented their own housing legislation to help low wealth and moderate income renters.

“Extending the moratorium on rent increases is the just and right thing to do at this time. I am proud to sponsor a bill and I thank my colleagues for their support,” Ivey promised.

The Centers for Disease Control initially issued a nationwide moratorium on rental evictions in September 2020. That moratorium has been extended four times and is currently expected to expire on July 31, 2021. The July deadline is not slated for further extension by the federal government.

As the deadline to end the federal moratorium on evictions for renters grows near, Ivey emphasized help is available for Prince George’s County residents.

“There have been federal funds available through the County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program for both tenants and landlords who have lost income because of COVID. These funds are available to those who qualify, and who submit an application to the County’s Department of Housing and Community Development,” Ivey said.

“Twenty million dollars in emergency assistance has been dispersed in the County so far. It is important to emphasize that immigration status is not and will not be checked; what matters is that people receive the needed assistance and are not evicted,” she added.

Many tenants have reported federal assistance for renters has been slow in trickling down to the community level for tenants like Veronica Gutierrez, one of several community-based advocates and immigrants who spoke about how the reduction of hours on her job during the COVID-19 pandemic has left her struggling with rent.

Gutierrez echoed a familiar concern that many working families have testified to here in Prince George’s County and throughout the State of Maryland. How can families impacted by the pandemic who are already behind with rent ever catch up when rental costs keep going up?

“I demand public authorities and officials in our area to start supporting us and stop raising our rent,” Gutierrez proclaimed.

The Federal Rental Eviction Moratorium does not forgive unpaid rent. It provides resources to help pay overdue rent, based on completing appropriate paperwork. Once the moratorium ends, tenants must compensate landlords for all unpaid rent unless other arrangements have been made. Landlords are allowed to charge penalties and fees during the period a tenant did not pay rent on time.

“Become more involved in our communities. Get to know us directly and the necessities we need day by day. We deserve to live in dignity,” Gutierrez stated.

The Prince George’s for Housing Justice Coalition’s member organizations include:
• Enterprise Community Partners
• Laurel Area Referral Services
• Independence Now
• New Day Maryland
• Neighborhood Design Center
• Prince Georges County
• PG Change Makers
• 1199 SEIU
• Tenants who have been directly impacted by housing insecurity.

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