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PJC Alert: Call Governor & Mayor: Don't Evict Grieving Family Members

Stymied by the deference paid to the City Administration here in Annapolis, advocates have gone to the fourth branch of government -- the press -- to make our case: see the well-reported story below in the Daily Record featuring PJC Public Policy Director Ricardo Flores. We are heartened to hear that the Governor's office is still only reviewing the issue - but now is the time, and basically our last chance, to get responsible legislators to pull the plug on this rather than simply defer to the city administration. Please make two last phone calls on this issue: (1) to Governor Martin O'Malley at (800) 811-8336 (2) to Mayor Sheila Dixon at (410) 396-3835. Here is what you can say: “Grieving family members who are otherwise qualified public housing tenants shouldn’t have to face eviction after their family member dies. Please . . . (to O’Malley) veto HB 762/SB 278. (to Dixon) pull the plug on HB 762/SB 278. Thank you.” Ricardo Flores Public Policy Director Public Justice Center 500 E. Lexington Street Baltimore, MD 21202 phone 240-388-1561 email floresr@publicjustice.org website www.publicjustice.org Kin face eviction after public housing tenant dies CYNTHIA DIPASQUALE Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer March 26, 2007 6:03 PM Both the Senate and House of Delegates have passed bills that would permit the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to evict occupants of public housing starting 10 days after the death of the leaseholder. The legislation was requested this year by the city’s current administration and last year, under then-Mayor Martin O’Malley’s administration. As governor, O’Malley is still studying the issue, a spokesman said. Although the legislative action was supported by all but three members of the city’s delegation in Annapolis (Del. Jill Carter voted against it and Delegates Frank M. Conaway Jr. and Talmadge Branch abstained), the bills face opposition from public housing tenant advocates back in Baltimore. Under the current law, “upon the death of a head of household the remaining family has the right to remain if they fulfill all of the relevant requirements — financial eligibility, and passing a criminal background check,” explained Public Justice Center Public Policy Director Ricardo A. Flores. “The city administration is pushing through a bill that would make that right discretionary, so that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, for whatever reason under the law at least, could say, ‘Your family member just died and now we’re going to move to evict you.’” The bills, House Bill 762 and Senate Bill 278, state that if a public housing tenant dies, the surviving spouse or other members of their immediate family living on the premises at the time “may be considered eligible to enter into a lease” if the occupant was listed as a household member in the deceased tenant’s leasing documents and if the occupant otherwise qualifies for public housing. If they do not meet those criteria, the housing authority can initiate legal proceedings to evict the occupants. The legislation passed both houses last week. It will now be sent back to the House to accept or reject the version passed by the Senate. If the House adopts the new version, it will go to O’Malley for his signature. Flores, who is not advocating for unqualified occupants to remain in public housing, did not understand the need for such a broad law. “What we have repeatedly requested and hasn’t been provided is an actual articulation of the requirements that the housing authority feels it doesn’t have the authority to enforce…,” he said. “We just really don’t believe that there’s anything they’re not capable of doing and enforcing…. And there are no standards or criteria within the bill to help determine how they’re going to use their discretion.” A spokeswoman for the HABC could not respond by press time to a request for comment. The bill sponsors did not return phone calls seeking comment. That leaves advocates guessing what the HABC’s motivation is to change a precedent since 1959 of permitting occupants to remain after the death of a leaseholder. Theda Saffo, an attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau Inc., suspected it may be because of a case she brought against the authority several years ago on behalf of pregnant 17-year-old girl evicted after her mother died. The problem, according to Saffo, was that the girl had been placed in foster care for several years and her name was mistakenly removed as an occupant. She lost the case, but still thinks it and several others against the HABC have prompted the desire for a statute to support its actions. “The reason we object [to the legislation] is that the housing authority is not going through its own process and is leaving family members very vulnerable,” Saffo said. “We’re afraid the courts will construe this as a strict liability bill” and will stop their inquiry at whether occupants are named on the lease or not, without looking to whether the housing authority erroneously kept people off of the lease. Carter, the only Baltimore city representative to vote against the bill, said she did so because it could potentially hurt citizens living in public housing. “When a poor person suffers the emotional loss of an immediate family member, the last thing she needs to endure is the threat of imminent homelessness,” she wrote in an e-mail Monday evening. “The Housing Authority's leases are year to year,” she added. “The authority has the same eviction rights of any other landlord for violation of the lease. The authority has never presented any evidence that it had a problem evicting these surviving relatives for cause. So, I fear that passage of this bill will be used as a license to evict those that need housing the most.” The law could affect any of the 40,000 residents currently provided housing by the authority.

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