During a presentation to a Florida Senate committee earlier this month, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families Chad Poppell mentioned the number of evictions that have been filed statewide during the pandemic, putting it at about 40,000.
“There is a large population of homelessness,” he said, noting that his agency has had to drastically increase staffing to manage the phone calls for assistance. “There’s a lot of people in need.”
The exact number of evictions filed statewide was 47,484, according to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, the source of Poppell’s comments. That represents new evictions filings made from March 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, according to the office’s spokesman, Paul Flemming. Because of the federal eviction moratorium in place, those thousands of eviction cases haven’t all resulted in people losing their homes, but quantify the growing logjam of cases that will come to completion when protections expire.
The number also marks a new piece of information that, throughout the pandemic, has been difficult to track — every county keeps track of their court filings in separate databases. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University only tracks select states in real time, and Florida has so far not been among them.
The number is actually lower than previous, non-pandemic years, according to a graph provided by Flemming, a phenomenon likely explained by the fact that for at least part of every one of the months included, there was either a state or federal moratorium on evictions in place.
But considering those protections, the number is far too high, said Alana Greer, director of the Community Justice Project, a Miami group that provides legal services for low-income clients and is also part of a larger advocacy group called the Florida Housing Justice Alliance.
“One eviction during a global pandemic is too many,” she said. “Tens of thousands of Florida families have faced homelessness and COVID exposure, despite programs meant to prevent this.”
Additionally, those moratoriums haven’t prevented all 47,484 eviction filings from going through the courts to become final notices posted on doors. In fact, at least hundreds of Florida renters have lost their homes during the period of the federal eviction moratorium.
Some of those renters were not protected by the order because they did not meet all its qualifications, which include being unable to pay full rent due to a “substantial loss of household income.” Others thought they fit the criteria but fell through technical loopholes, such as having their leases terminated rather than being explicitly evicted for non-payment of rent.
Either way, the conversation around evictions has made its way to Tallahassee, as lawmakers begin meeting for the ramp-up to the 60-day legislative session, which officially begins in March.
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One state lawmaker, Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, has filed a bill that would prohibit landlords from denying future tenants’ applications solely because they were evicted during the pandemic, which the bill defines as the period in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency.
Jones said he wanted to focus on this consequence of evictions because people who lose housing due to pandemic-caused unemployment shouldn’t struggle to find a new place to live with a past eviction on their record, “when they had no control over that.”
“If we really are going to be committed to getting the economy back up and going, it’s also going to include post-COVID work,” Jones said. “We need to start thinking about that now, we can’t wait until later.”
The proposal, Senate Bill 576, has been assigned to three committees.
Times/Herald Tallahassee staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.
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