Navigating Legal Challenges in the Wake of COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a host of uncertainties in nearly every aspect of personal and public life across the state. St. Ambrose Legal Services is here to work with you to achieve clarity and confidence in challenging times. If you or anyone you know is in need of legal services, contact us today: legal@stambros.org.

Here are some of the questions our legal services team is addressing now:

Q: I recently lost my job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What resources are available to me?

A: You may file for Unemployment Insurance benefits through the Maryland Department of Budget and Management. You can do so online at http://www.mdunemployment.com or via telephone at 1-877-293-4125 or 410-853-1600.

Q: I am afraid that I will be evicted from my house. Can that happen right now?

A: All foreclosure proceedings in Maryland are currently stayed. That means that no foreclosure case will process through the court system until further notice. Additionally, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state supreme court, has suspended all evictions whether the property is owned with mortgage or rented from a landlord. Even in cases where evictions were previously authorized, Baltimore City and County have suspended evictions from taking place.

Q: Am I getting a check from the government?

A: The federal government recently passed the CARES Act, which will send money directly to millions of Americans. The Internal Revenue Service will use information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return to determine whether you are entitled to direct payment and the amount that you will receive. If your address has changed since filing and you do not have a direct deposit set up, you will need to contact the IRS to inform them. One way to do this is to call the IRS at 800-829-1040 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The Treasury Department recently stated that people receiving Social Security benefits will not need to file a tax return and will automatically receive either a paper check via mail or a direct deposit into a bank account.

If you have not filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 and receive income beyond Social Security benefits, you should file your 2019 taxes as soon as possible.

Q: I cannot afford to make my mortgage payment this month. What should I do?

A: The first thing you should do is contact your mortgage servicer and explain the situation. Your servicer may offer a forbearance, meaning that they will suspend your obligation to make monthly payments for a certain period of time. At the end of a forbearance, you will continue making the same monthly payments as before.

Q: I cannot afford to make my rent payment this month. What should I do?

A: You should contact your landlord and explain what is going on. They may offer to work with you on a payment plan or suspend your obligation to pay rent for a period of time. Your landlord CANNOT legally evict you without utilizing the services of your local Sheriff’s office.

Q: What should I do if I cannot afford to pay my utilities?

A: BGE has suspended all service disconnections and late payment fees until at least May 1 and will be working with customers to establish payment arrangements and identify energy assistance options. For further information, contact BGE at 800-685-0123.

Both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have suspended water shutoffs for failure to pay.

Could I be evicted_

Q: I have not paid my property tax. Can my property still go to tax sale?

A: Yes. The 2020 Baltimore City has been delayed, but may still occur this year. The 2020 Baltimore County tax sale is scheduled to take place in early May. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR HOME IMMEDIATELY AFTER IT IS SOLD AT TAX SALE. Even after a property is sold at a tax sale, the owner has a right to pay what is owed (possibly along with fees) until at least six months after the tax sale.

Call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for more information at 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Q: Can I still vote in the upcoming elections?

A: The Special Congressional District 7 Election (to replace Rep. Elijah Cummings) will be held exclusively by mail. If you live in the District and you are registered to vote, expect to receive a ballot in your mailbox in early April. In order to have your vote counted, if must be filled out and returned, postmarked on or before April 28, 2020.

The 2020 Primary Election will take place on June 2, 2020 from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm. Early voting will be open from Thursday, May 21 to Thursday, May 28.

Please keep up to date with the State Board of Elections as these dates and procedures are subject to change.

Q: What should I do if I need further assistance or receive a document that I do not understand?

A: You should contact the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Q: Will any of this information change?

A: Maybe. This information was compiled in early April and all information is subject to change. Call the Legal Service Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209 with any questions you may have or to confirm that any of this information is still valid.

A Survivor’s Story

Ms. C. is the epitome of a survivor.

Ms. C. has been taking care of others practically her entire life, which she has spent all of in Baltimore. She has 13 brothers and sisters, three biological children and four foster children who she later adopted. Ms. C. was a nurse for many years in the City but when her son became very ill and hospitalized with asthma related illnesses, she could no longer work.

“I have also been a very sick person. Open heart surgery, breast cancer, bladder cancer… but I try very hard to take care of myself. I asked God for the strength, and He gave it to me.”

Ms. C. first came to St. Ambrose for Homeownership Counseling in the late 1980’s when she was looking to buy her first home. She said, “It was very helpful!” She also contemplated the Homesharing Program at St. Ambrose but then decided she was going to adopt her then foster children. She has lived in her home now for well over 20 years! “God has always been there for me; especially after finding my home.” 

Unexpectedly, severe rain and debris began rushing in from a hole in Ms. C.’s roof which was filling her children’s bedroom with water. She knew she had to do something. That’s when she decided to reach back out to St. Ambrose and the HUBS Program (Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors) for help.

HUBS is a program through which legacy homeowners can age-in-place by accessing much-needed home repairs and modifications to ensure housing stability for themselves and for future generations. Delays in processing requests for public home repair programs have led to a backlog of low-income older adults waiting to receive vital home repairs. “St. Ambrose rushed my roof job and made it a priority. ‘Home’ to me is my pride and my joy.”

“I have told several people that the HUBS program can assist older adults who have limited financial capabilities,” Ms. C. continued. “Older adults just don’t have money like that, but there are programs like HUBS that can help.”

Gail MacInnes, St. Ambrose HUBS Case Manager explains that “By providing support for critical home repairs or modifications to improve safety, HUBS helps older adults in Baltimore City to stay in their homes and to continue to thrive in their communities.” St. Ambrose became a HUBS site in October 2018 and has completed home modifications and accessibility concerns for 76 older adult households to date.

Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS)- A St. Ambrose Story

As a third generation Baltimore community leader and advocate, Ms. B. is no stranger to the challenges our community faces, especially seniors. Ms. B. has previously served on the 45th Legislative District of Maryland, has been voted “Mother of the Year” twice in Baltimore City (along with countless other awards) and has a street named after her in honor of her service to the community.

When Ms. B.’s health began to decline, she reached out to community resources to see what help would be available to her in making minor repairs and modifications to her home. That’s when she found the HUBS Program at St. Ambrose.

As part of the HUBS services we deliver, St. Ambrose helped Ms. B receive home modifications through Civic Works Cities for All Ages Program. Ms. B. has had her front walkway fixed, exterior rail at rear entrance installed,motion light at top of basement stairs installed, grab bar in bathroom installed in addition to other minor modifications and repairs.

Ms. B. recalled, “I became familiar with HUBS due to my health challenges that caused me to be a recipient of the program. The HUBS Program was there when I needed it. I am grateful for everyday I see.”

In this way, the HUBS Program at St. Ambrose assists seniors in remaining safe and independent in their own homes for as long as possible.

St. Ambrose is now a HUBS site! (Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors)

Housing Upgrades Benefiting Seniors (HUBS) is a program that assists older adults (over 65) in Baltimore city. This program allows seniors to continue to live in their homes and neighborhoods as they age by helping them with home repairs and modifications. Older Adults like Ms. G.

Ms. G. has been a lifelong member of the Baltimore community. Born and raised in the city, Ms. G. knew she wanted to devote her life to serving others. She started working at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore in 1965 registering patients at their time of need and loved every minute of it. Ms. G. moved into her home in 1986 with her husband, son and daughter. She came to know St. Ambrose through the pastor at her church, Garden of Prayer Christian Church. The pastor went above and beyond to connect his parishioners with St. Ambrose and the services that are available. Additionally, the church was an Adopt-A-Family participant and contributed yearly to this fund serving families who just need a little extra help.

Ms. G. was forced to retire after 33 years of service to St. Agnes Hospital due to a debilitating car accident resulting in four major surgeries over a 12-month period. The accident left her and her husband permanently and significantly disabled. Due to several years of medical issues following the death of her husband, Ms. G., like many clients, was left tackling the challenges of senior homeownership alone.

She came to St. Ambrose when faced with a homeownership crisis. Understandably, the routine maintenance of the home fell through the cracks which left her with a severe roof leak. Since she had no homeowners insurance, she was financially unable to make the repairs to her roof.

Over time, the leak became a gaping hole in the ceiling that had debris, snow and rain water rushing into her upstairs bedroom. She has maintained the leak with over 20 receptacles catching the rain water/snow/debris but it has become too much to handle. Although she has a son nearby and a friend to check on her, Ms. G. knew this was too big a problem for them to handle on their own. Ms. G. turned to St. Ambrose and the HUBS Program for help. Gail MacInnes, HUBS Case Manager, met with Ms. G. to devise a plan of action to make the repairs to her roof that she desperately needed. With the assistance of grant funding, St. Ambrose was able to facilitate the repairs which will allow her to utilize the space in her home while giving her the safety and security that she needs at this time in her life.

“I have lived in this home forever. I have put roots here. This home is what I have created and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Thank you, St. Ambrose for giving me the ability to stay in my home. St. Ambrose has truly been a blessing in my life. I never knew how much fixing a roof could cost and I couldn’t have afforded it on my own, especially as a widow. I know there are many other seniors who could benefit from the services provided by the HUBS Program and St. Ambrose. They need to know they are not alone.”

In this way, the HUBS program assists seniors in remaining safe and independent in their own homes for as long as possible.