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 Match Made at Home

Ms. D. and Ms. L. were first matched in 2009 and have been Homesharing together for 11 years!

A Homesharing Case Manager with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center met with Ms. D. to begin the process of finding her perfect Homesharing match. In the next few days, Ms. D. met a couple of potential homesharers but in 2009, she decided to choose Ms. L. to share her home with.

Even though Ms. L. had already had one stroke, she was still able to take care of herself and remain independent. When a second stroke hit Ms. L., she was taken to a skilled nursing facility in order to regain her health. Ms. L.’s sister was unable to take care of her so Ms. D. made the decision to step up to the plate for her long-time friend who needed her help.

Ms. D. and Ms. L. were once strangers, now great friends. Ms. D. has been the primary caregiver to Ms. L. since 2012 and now the pair is inseparable. The two friends are also cross-country travelers venturing on trips to Connecticut, Delaware and even Las Vegas!

Ms. D. said, “Homesharing is an excellent program that provides companionship and someone to talk to and go places with. I’m retired now but am working part-time which is why Homesharing has been a wonderful match for me.”

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.

A Summer of Building Community- TOGETHER!

On July 30, long-time Baltimore City resident Mrs. Comer had her back porch painted and grab bars installed in her upstairs bathroom for safety. Volunteers from Wells Fargo installed new flooring in her living room and dining room. And this fall, both her furnace and roof will be repaired. 

These modifications were made possible through Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS) and Wells Fargo, in partnership with Rebuilding Together, Central Baltimore Partnership, Jubilee Baltimore, and Jubilee Arts. HUBS is a program that allows seniors (over 65) in Baltimore City to continue to live in their homes and neighborhoods safely and independently as they age by helping them with home repairs and safety modifications. 

Clients like Mrs. Comer, who live in particular neighborhoods designated by Wells Fargo, may have access to additional support for sprucing up. The Wells Fargo Foundation is providing implementation grant funding for Front and Center: A Five Year Equity Plan for Central Baltimore. Part of this plan is to support decent, affordable housing initiatives- especially focused on legacy residents being able to age safely in place.

“I have lived in my home for nearly 50 years. I didn’t realize I needed help but now I do. This is such a wonderful gift that I have received. I am just so appreciative!”- Mrs. Comer

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.

The Story of Ms. J.

St. Ambrose Rental Services Client Story     

Ms. J. may be 22 years old, but her life experiences quickly gave her the tools necessary to survive life on the streets as a young mother in Baltimore. When Ms. J. graduated from high school, her newborn son Luke was there in the audience to support her. Following graduation, Ms. J. had been kicked out of the only home she has ever known due to her mother’s struggles with addiction.

Ms. J. only had one option: to move in with her boyfriend, the father of her child. This would allow her to begin schooling and obtain her Medical Assistance certification. Unfortunately, due to a volatile home situation, Ms. J. had to withdraw from school and she and Luke had to flee to a domestic violence shelter. As a single mother living on the streets with a baby she wondered, “Why didn’t I just wait to have a child? But I didn’t.” Ms. J. knew it was time to reach out to community resources for help. 

Ms. J.’s Case Manager from Maryland Health Care Connection referred her to St. Ambrose’s Rental Services Program and Leah Mason-Grant, Senior Manager of Rental Services. “Leah is always so kind and helpful to Luke and me. She treats us exactly like we are all a part of one family.”

Ms. J. was then connected with Darrell, St. Ambrose Case Manager, whom she found to be extremely helpful on her journey. “Darrell helped me find the job I have now. I was only babysitting when he helped me find an on-call, floating IEP (Individualized Education Program) position in the Baltimore city schools. This allows me to help children in the school system that require extra assistance, guidance and are special needs.” After one year, Ms. J. will be eligible for a full-time position at a permanent school location.

Ms. J. and Luke, almost 4 years old, now live in a St. Ambrose rental property. They have a two-bedroom townhouse to call their own and they love their new life. “The home was so big and beautiful! I never had anything like that before. It means everything to me that I have a nice home to raise my son in.”

What’s next for Ms. J.? Ms. J. would appreciate the opportunity to go back to college. Her sister is a driving force for this because as a Phlebotomist and Mortuary Science student, her sister has expressed an interest in opening a family mortuary business with Ms. J., but she has to get a degree first.

Ms. J.’s plan is to get a more permanent job, get accepted to college and start her son in school. “Thank you Darrell, Leah and St. Ambrose for everything you have done for us!”