Prince George’s County residents line up outside Langley Park Community Center on Oct. 9 to apply for funding to pay for rent and possibly utilities. (Robert R. Roberts/ The Washington Informer)
Prince George’s County residents line up outside Langley Park Community Center on Oct. 9 to apply for funding to pay for rent and possibly utilities. (Robert R. Roberts/ The Washington Informer)

After Sophia Davis relocated from Baltimore City and moved into a new Greenbelt apartment in July 2020, she noticed bedbugs, roaches and other problems with the unit.

A representative with the rental company advised Davis to withhold rent and utility payments until workers cleaned and fixed her apartment, which she said wasn’t in that condition when she first saw the unit. The company later incorporated legal fees which led to “the landlord wanting me to move.”

During this time as the coronavirus pandemic continued, she became downsized from a supervisory position at a Head Start facility in Baltimore and later laid off.

She sought help and applied earlier this year for the Prince George’s County Emergency Rental Assistance Program [ERAP]. She received approval July 6 of this year for $11,000 toward rent and utilities.

“I did go through a whole year of mess: heart palpitations, depression. I couldn’t eat because of not knowing if I would be put out the next day,” Davis, who currently works as a fourth-grade elementary school science teacher, said Saturday, Oct. 9.

“This was the first time I ever went through a situation like this. I had to humble myself. The county did a lot to help me out and I’m very grateful but there are a lot of other people in need and need help now,” she said.

The county’s ability to help Davis and at least 19,000 other households comes from the federal government, specifically the U.S. Treasury Department and $84 million.

So far, more than 4,000 people have received approval for rent and utility payments, said Aspasia Xypolia, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Through tracking data, she added the county leads the state of Maryland distributing emergency rental assistance funding.

Some of the guidelines and eligibility requirements include:

  • Past due rent from April 1, 2020, and up to 18 months in utility and home energy bills.
  • Affected by the pandemic based on confirmed COVID-19 cases, or jobs associated with layoff risks.
  • A member of the household with “qualified” unemployment benefits experienced a reduction in income or other financial hardship directly or indirectly due to COVID-19.

Landlords can also receive financial assistance that meets certain criteria such as assisting Black and Latino residents and tenants at or below 50% area median income.

To help spread the word, the county’s housing department and Office of Community Relations are partnering to host community eviction fairs where residents can apply for rental assistance.

The first, held last month in Suitland, attracted more than 400 people and a similar number Saturday at Langley Park Community Center.

One of the goals will be to help residents who received eviction court documents where intake specialists can process applications through a fast-tracking program.

A color-coded map at https://bit.ly/3mHkSfE shows priority areas based on U.S. Census data.

Euniesha Davis, director of community relations, said a third fair will be scheduled in November.

“Although anyone from the county who needs assistance can come to the fair, we target those most vulnerable communities,” Davis said. “It’s purposeful.”

LaWanda Richmond drove to Langley Park from Laurel to receive information on whether she qualifies for financial assistance toward rent and utilities. She hasn’t received unemployment benefits since June.

The licensed cosmetologist and instructor with 30 years of experience, whose hair salon closed and to which she attributes to COVID-19, said the state unemployment office informed her many requests for benefits have been deemed fraudulent.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted three Prince George’s County men for filing $2.7 million in unemployment claims in more than a dozen states including Maryland, Michigan and Tennessee.

“I’m not committing any fraud,” said Richmond, who also cares for her 16-year-old autistic daughter. “Unemployment is messing me [up] big time. It’s pushed me back for [paying] my car note. Pushed me back for my rent. I don’t have a job. I need some assistance.”

Visit www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/3703/Emergency-Rental-Assistance-Program, or call the ERAP hotline at 301-883-6504 for more information.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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