Moratorium on evictions spurs new awareness

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SARASOTA COUNTY – Nonprofits and agencies in the region received a reprieve from what could have been a turbulent time on Tuesday evening, after the federal Centers for Disease Control extended the moratorium on evictions by two months for areas heavily affected by the delta variant of COVID-19.

“I was getting text messages and emails last night and this morning,” said Barbara Cruz, president and CEO of United Way of South Sarasota County Wednesday morning. “People are plugged in and watching. ”

The extension until Oct. 3, she said, gives regional agencies an opportunity to publicize the aid available and “what current steps to take, if they know they are threatened with deportation. , once the moratorium is lifted. ”

Still, Sarasota County is behind schedule in processing applications for funding from the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, while nonprofit officials fear that many residents may be eligible for the grant. help haven’t even applied yet.

Jennifer Fagenbaum, executive director of Family Promise of South Sarasota County, said 50% of people who sought nonprofit housing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic never needed help reaching both ends.

Jennifer Fagenbaum, executive director of Family Promise of South Sarasota County, said 50% of people who contact Family Promise have never had a profile in the Community Service Information System – the common database used by agencies that are part of of the local homelessness continuum. of care.

“These are not people who are on welfare, who use pantries, who receive rent assistance, they are people who used to do it and it all upset them,” Fagenbaum said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everyone who contacted Family Promise had accessed services in recent years, if not ten years ago.

Family Promise will use the time between now and the October 3 deadline to create videos for a social media campaign as well as to contact traditional media to urge people to explore the rental assistance program. emergency.

“Just to make people understand, if you think you don’t qualify for this rent assistance, go ahead and check, you most likely will,” Fagenbaum said.

As of Wednesday, 193 households in Sarasota County received more than $ 1.2 million in rent relief and 4,456 calls were answered.

Sarasota launched the program in May with $ 13.1 million available.

Emergency funds are available for anyone who earns less than 80% of the median income in the Sarasota County area and has suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19 after March 20, 2020.

In Sarasota County, that income means $ 43,250 for a single person, $ 49,400 or a two-member household, $ 55,600 for a three-person household, and $ 61,750 for a family of four, up to 91 $ 405 for a family of 10.

Applicants can receive up to 12 months retroactive rent and up to three months future rent under the program.

You can find more information on this and other answers to frequently asked questions on the scgov.net website or at https://bit.ly/3CgidRm.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 701 requests were under review. Of these, 328 are waiting for additional information from the tenant and 48 are waiting for additional information from the owner.

Laurel Varnell, Emergency Rental Assistance Program Manager for Sarasota County, said applications are taking a long time to process due to back and forth between applicants and landlords filling in the information, ” to make sure we have the correct document before we can charge it.

863 other applications are in progress but not yet submitted.

Anticipate a flare

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits in the region, such as the United Way of South Sarasota County, have been anticipating an increase in the needs of families seeking rent relief.

In April, Women United South Sarasota County, a United Way Affinity Group, was launched with a particular focus on preventing evictions and alleviating homelessness for the ALICE population in Sarasota County.

ALICE stands for Limited Assets, Limited Income and Employees.

The non-profit organization also raises funds to offer assistance with the lifting of the moratorium, as well as to connect people to legal aid through the Gulf Coast Legal Services, as well as to obtain tutoring vouchers to help children from displaced families keep up to date with math, science and other subjects.

“We are obviously looking for financial resources to catch up with them and we also want to be a resource for the owners,” said Cruz. “We’re helping landlords and tenants come together and provide that financial base and with the expertise of Gulf Coast Legal – it’s a great collaboration and partnership. ”

Gulfcoast Legal Services, which currently operates in Pinellas and Manatee counties and southern Sarasota County, received a significant increase in the number of appellants on Monday, following the initial expiration of the moratorium, noted Robin Stover, deputy director housing for Gulfcoast Legal Services.

“The increase in calls came from people extremely concerned about the end of the moratorium and from people who had requested emergency rental assistance but had not yet been approved,” Stover said.

In addition to the county-run pandemic rental assistance programs, the state of Florida has the Our Florida Rental Assistance Program where tenants and landlords can apply for relief. More information on this is available at https://www.ourflorida.com.

The US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which covers the period June 23 to July 5, indicates that in Sarasota County, 4,772 households are in arrears with an average of $ 4,587 per household. .

In Manatee County, for the same period, 5,275 households are in arrears with $ 3,963 per household.

Surgo Ventures, a national nonprofit that uses data to develop solutions to social problems, anticipated a wave of evictions after the moratorium was lifted.

As of July 31, 832 residential eviction applications have been filed in Sarasota County since October 1, 2020, while in Manatee County, 1,216 evictions have been filed since November, according to data provided by county clerks. .

The moratorium did not stop the actual eviction process, but only the meaning of the “writ of possession” by the local sheriff’s offices.

Although a writ is issued by a judge, a tenant can appeal through a private attorney or lawyers from Gulfcoast Legal or Legal Aid of Manasota.

Fagenbaum noted that she was in constant contact with the civilian unit in the sheriff’s office and that previously, in cases where subpoenas had been served, MPs had also filed information on Family Promise.

“Unfortunately, it is very difficult to reach the families who need our help before this,” said Fagenbaum. “As soon as you fall behind on your rent, I can help you with your rent or I can help you complete the Sarasota County Funding Application.”

Places to find help

Once the legal process begins, it could take two weeks, Stover noted.

Ideally, residents should get legal advice before this happens, she added.

“One thing Gulfcoast Legal Services can do is be an accurate, timely and specific advocate and intermediary between tenant and landlord,” Stover said.

In Sarasota County, in addition to receiving inquiries on the website, which can be quickly accessed at https://www.scgov.net/rent, there are six locations in Sarasota County where Ambassadors Emergency Rental Assistance Program can help people through the program.

Drop-in stops are available at the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library, 2801 Newtown Blvd .; Fruitville Public Library, 100 Cobun Road; and Goodwill Selby Newtown, 1781 Dr. Martin Luther King Way.

Appointments are required to meet with program ambassadors at ARC Englewood, 370 W. Dearborn Street, Suite D, Englewood; Sandra Sims Terry Community Center, 509 Collins Road, Laurel; and North Port Social Services, 6961 Outreach Way, North Port.

In Manatee County, the easiest web access is at https://www.mymanatee.org/renthelp while personalized assistance is available at three locations: Central Library, 1301 Barcarotta Boulevard West, Bradenton; Palmetto Library, 923 6th Street West, Palmetto; and Gulfcoast Legal Services, 1112 Manatee Ave., E., second floor, Bradenton.

Another concern, once the moratorium is lifted, is the prospect that landlords will cash in on what may still be a hot housing market, rather than continue with tenants.

“We’ve actually had owners who refused to take our money because they want the family to sell this house,” said Fagenbaum, who added that some apartment complexes have been working proactively with Family Promise, to alert them to tenants who are falling behind.

“It’s like this perfect storm of all these things happening,” she added. “A lot of people are moving here, a lot of people have money, the housing market has gone up, a lot of homeowners have realized that it is much more worth it for them to sell the house.

Interested?

• For more information on the Sarasota County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, visit https://www.scgov.net/rent.

• For more information on the Manatee County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, visit https://www.mymanatee.org/renthelp.

• For more information on Gulfcoast Legal Services, visit https://www.gulfcoastlegal.org.

• For more information on Family Promise of South Sarasota County, visit https: //www/familypromisessc.org.

• For more information on United Way of South Sarasota County, visit https://www.uwssc.org.

Earle Kimel primarily covers southern Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.


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