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Coronavirus Relief Aid For Florida Renters, Homeowners Still Available


Floridians recovering from pandemic-related income losses can still get help paying past-due rent and mortgage bills.

“As long as folks can attest that they’ve lost income, they’ve lost employment, they’ve been negatively affected by the pandemic - then they’re likely to qualify,” said Trey Price, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “Perhaps they’ve seen hospital or health care bills pile up.”

Price says household earnings don’t factor into who qualifies for rental assistance. Homeowners, however, must earn below 140 % of the area median income to qualify.

Since local housing offices began disbursing funds over the summer, more than 9,600 households statewide have gotten help with rent and mortgage payments through the program. That's in addition to the number of households that have received assistance through separate coronavirus relief programs in the state’s major cities, Price said.

“Orlando, Miami and Tampa have been doing this for quite some time,” he said. “We’re an extra shot in the arm for those towns.”

Price says it's not too late for people to apply for assistance. Funding is available through local housing offices across the state through Dec. 30 - the deadline to apply.

“Even those local governments that have moved all of their money, there’s going to be more available for them to move before the deadline.”

Right now, a federal halt on evictions is helping keep many tenants who've lost their jobs or income as a result of the pandemic in stable housing. Price says it’s important for renters who are behind with their payments to seek assistance before that moratorium expires at the end of the year.

“Just because you don’t pay doesn’t mean that it’s not owed,” Price said. “What we’re trying to do is get those folks who have been affected by COVID to be squared up with their accounts before the eviction moratorium runs out.”

Landlords and mortgage lenders receive payments directly from the local housing office on behalf of tenants and homeowners whose applications are approved.

Some banks have temporarily stopped requiring mortgage payments from homeowners who’ve taken a financial hit during the pandemic.

“There are some folks who aren’t paying their mortgage right now because they’re in forbearance,” Price said. But other lenders aren’t offering homeowners a break on their payments. “Those are primarily the folks that we’re trying to target.”

Using federal CARES Act dollars, the state established a $250 million Coronavirus Relief Fund for housing assistance over the summer.

Almost half of the fund - $120 million - was set aside for past-due mortgage and rent payments. Florida Housing has so far distributed $115 million to cities and counties across the state.

Here’s a glimpse at what the program looks like in Bay County, according to statistics from ReHouse Bay:

  • Sixty-five households in Panama City have received help paying their rent or mortgage bills.
  • The city has collected $295,252 for the program from Florida Housing. Most of that - $189,465 - has been spent to assist renters and homeowners recovering from economic hardship related to the pandemic.
  • Bay County has received $795,874. Almost all of that funding - $769,540 - has been paid to assist 211 households.

Local housing officials say the county is expecting to get an additional $100,000 for mortgage and rent payment assistance later this month, Caitlin Lawrence, the city’s public information officer, wrote in an email.

County residents can apply for rent and mortgage assistance online or at City Hall in downtown Panama City.

He says that’s because some of the funding originally set aside for affordable housing assistance will likely be reallocated to the rent and mortgage payment assistance program.

“With Florida Housing’s portfolio, we were committed more money than we were going to be able to put out,” he said.

Local governments can apply for those dollars after they’ve spent the funds they’ve received so far.

“If they’ve exhausted those funds - they’re going to be able to tap into more funds that we’re making available.”

And ultimately that money will help renters and homeowners catch up on their payments ahead of the new year.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.