Florida renters, landlords: What we know so far about federal rent assistance money

The federal government passed $25 billion in rental assistance. How will it get to Floridians?
An eviction notice is taped to a door at Tampa Park Apartments on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 in Tampa.
An eviction notice is taped to a door at Tampa Park Apartments on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 12, 2021

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, both tenant and landlord groups have been calling for Congress to pass rental assistance funding, saying that moratoriums simply pushed mass evictions down the road without providing a long-term solution.

In the final days of 2020, the federal government finally did so, including $25 billion in emergency rental assistance as part of the stimulus package. That number was much smaller than the $100 billion previously championed by House Democrats.

But it’s one thing for the federal government to approve funding — it’s another for tenants and landlords to have access to it.

Kody Glazer, legal director of the Florida Housing Coalition, said that in the two weeks since the stimulus bill became law, his organization, which advocates for affordable housing, has been receiving questions from renters in need of immediate help.

“We’ve received calls from tenants saying, ‘I read the news saying that there’s new rent money assistance. How can I get it?’” he said.

Here’s what we know so far about how that funding is expected to be distributed:

When will Floridians be able to get rental assistance?

The timeline remains unclear, but there are clues about when the money could arrive in Florida.

The first step is for the federal government to dole out the funding to state and local governments, which will then be tasked with handing it out to eligible residents.

In a news release Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said the state government expects to administer more than $850 million — which doesn’t include the funding that some cities and counties in Florida also will receive. The state expects the federal government to give the money to participating governments “in the coming weeks.” Local governments are eligible to participate in the program if they have at least 200,000 residents.

In a separate statement, Cody McCloud, a spokesman for DeSantis, said the governor’s office is still determining which state agency is “best suited to administer the program in a manner that most expeditiously delivers the funds to Floridians that need it.”

The federal stimulus package requires that the funding be distributed to states and eligible local governments within 30 days of the law’s passage, Glazer said. The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, which puts that deadline at Jan. 26.

After that, renters seeking assistance will still need to go through an application process on county, city or state government websites.

When asked to estimate when the money could be available, McCloud responded that “it is not possible to predict a timeframe on how quickly the aid can be distributed until we have the program in place, but it will be done as quickly as possible, because we understand the importance of getting this relief to Floridians who are struggling.”

Glazer said that as of mid-January, he’s concerned about the amount of time it may take for this money to get to its intended recipients.

“We’re concerned some of these programs won’t start until mid-February or March,” he said.

How much of the total money is being allocated to Florida?

Florida is expected to receive $1,429,695,000 of the $25 billion of emergency rental assistance, according to an estimate by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Tuesday’s release, DeSantis similarly said he expects Floridians to receive $1.4 billion.

Where can I apply?

Application portals hadn’t been set up as of the second week in January, but they are likely to be on city, county and state government websites when they become live.

Are there eligibility requirements?

Yes. The U.S. Department of the Treasury website lays out criteria for who will be eligible to receive the rental assistance. The requirements are that at least one person within the household applying for help:

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has “experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19.″
  • Is at risk of being homeless or otherwise experiencing “housing instability.”
  • Makes 80 percent or less of the area median income.

In the Tampa Bay metro area, 80 percent of the area median income for a family of four is $56,250, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Income eligibility will be determined based on a household’s total income for 2020 or its monthly income at the time of application, according to the Treasury. In addition to the requirements above, if someone in a household has been unemployed for 90 days prior to the application, or makes 50 percent or less of the area median income, they will be prioritized.

Are there restrictions on what the rental assistance can cover?

Yes. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, at least 90 percent of the funds must be used to provide direct financial assistance to help people pay rent, back-owed rent, utilities, back-owed utilities “and other expenses related to housing.” The rest, up to 10 percent, can be used by state and local governments to provide other services intended to keep residents “stably housed,” as well as administrative costs.

Eligible households can receive up to 12 months’ worth of financial assistance, plus an additional three months if there are funds available and the government entity granting the money “determines the extra months are needed to ensure housing stability,” according to the Treasury.

Can either landlords or tenants apply?

Yes. Applications can be submitted by tenants or by landlords on behalf of tenants they believe to be eligible, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, which notes that “in general, funds will be paid directly to landlords and utility service providers.”

I’m a tenant who’s eligible but my landlord doesn’t want to participate. What now?

If a landlord doesn’t want to participate in the rental assistance program, the money can be distributed directly to the tenant, the Treasury said.

That’s a change from the way the previous coronavirus relief money was distributed, and one Glazer said was needed after some landlords declined to provide the necessary paperwork.

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