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Baltimore Pilot Program to Provide Tenants Legal Representation

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Tuesday, October 18, 2022   

Most tenants facing eviction do not have legal representation, but a pilot program in Baltimore seeks to change that.

The cost of eviction to the individual is high, with disruptions to families, health, and often jobs. The cost to city and state services in the wake of this disruption is measured in the millions of dollars. Yet, research shows that tenants with legal representation avoid eviction over 90% of the time. United Way of Central Maryland is part of a pilot program that will connect tenants with free legal representation via their 211-phone helpline.

Franklyn Baker, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland, said the city of Baltimore has one of the highest eviction rates in the country with 140,000 eviction filings a year in a city of only 125,000 rental units. He said the statistic speaks to the vulnerability of the population.

"Because the people in this city are very vulnerable, they're having multiple eviction filings in a given year," Baker said.

Research by the Public Justice Center
projects that helping renters avoid eviction via legal representation would lead to more than $35 million in cost savings for the city and state. The study pointed to savings in areas including homeless shelters and transitional housing and lost funding at schools due to chronic absences, as well as costs incurred when homeless children enter the foster-care system.

The pilot program is funded by a $4 million grant from the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and has the local United Way partnering with Civil Justice Incorporated, a legal referral service. Last year, Maryland passed legislation guaranteeing tenants access to legal counsel, and Baker said this pilot is part of the first wave of implementation in the state.

"If we can get it working well through this legal-representation process in the city, our hopes are pretty high that some other parts of the state could really benefit from this," Baker said.

The Maryland United Way Helpline is a free, confidential service available 24 hours a day year-round in more than 140 languages and can be reached by dialing 211.


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