TAMPA — The pandemic seemed a distant threat when Mandy Bayarkhuu told her apartment complex in February she was planning to find somewhere new to live.
Then she lost her $75,000-a-year job as a product developer with a sports apparel company. Now, the mother of two has joined hundreds of thousands of Floridians on unemployment. Other apartment complexes won’t rent to her because she doesn’t have a steady income, and her landlord has given her until May 1 to pay her $1,600 rent or move out.
“We’re not homeless, so we can’t go to shelters," she said. “We’re falling through the cracks.”
Florida’s 45-day stay on evictions and mortgage foreclosures was intended to prevent people like Bayarkhuu from becoming homeless. But housing advocates are warning that the state has not done enough to protect renters and could see an onslaught of evictions when the stay expires around May 17.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order does not protect people whose leases are expiring or low-income families who live in extended-stay motels. And it has not stopped landlords from beginning eviction proceedings.
More than 120 notices of non-payment of rent have been filed in Hillsborough County since DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order, said Tom DiFiore, team leader of the housing unit at Bay Area Legal Services. Evictions also have been filed in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Courts are not issuing writs of possession, the final step in an eviction, but tenants are being served with notices, DiFiore said. Those could become a life-long black mark for tenants and harm their chances of renting because Florida has no process for expunging eviction filings, he said.
“Even if it’s dismissed or settled, it can affect your ability to rent in the future,” DiFiore said.
Other states have taken more steps to protect renters, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. That includes bans on landlords filing eviction notices to families affected by the coronavirus, adding late fees to overdue rent and reporting late payments to credit rating agencies. Some states also have given renters a specified grace period to catch up on unpaid rent.
The Eviction Lab’s study ranked all 50 states on their response to the coronavirus. Florida scored 1 out of 5 and was ranked 28th. Massachusetts earned the best ranking. It ordered courts not to accept eviction filings and extends that moratorium for 45 days after a state of emergency declaration is lifted.
Florida has about 2.5 million households in rented accommodation, according to a 2017 study by the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida. They typically are working families who rely on a regular salary to make rent. About 351,000 households earn 60 percent or less of the region’s median income of about $52,500.
With more than 1.5 million unemployment claims filed since mid-March, when the state saw a record surge in people thrown out of work due to the coronavirus, nonprofit groups fear a rash of evictions will happen once the evictions stay is lifted.
“I am concerned about next month and the month after that,” said Emery Ivery, Tampa Bay area president for United Way Suncoast. “People are using up savings and maxing out credit cards. The long-term aspect of this will be a huge challenge, as well.”
The group is working with the Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Initiative to try to come up with housing for families living in extended-stay motels who are out of work and to plug other gaps in the state’s safety net.
That would include Stephanie Brannon, who was furloughed after 22 years working at Busch Gardens.
A culinary supervisor, she was making $14 an hour and living in a kitchenette owned by Metropolitan Ministries with her 16-year-old son.
The program she is in requires her to make at least three times the $225 rent and to save for her own place. Now, she no longer meets that criteria and is waiting to hear if she can stay.
It took her three weeks to file for unemployment because of problems with the state’s claims website. During that time, she received a stimulus check, but said a one-time payment won’t solve her problems.
“I don’t know what to I’m going to do,” she said. “I’ve been looking for a job, but it’s so hard.”
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