The omnibus coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress in the waning days of 2020 had nearly 5,600 pages’ worth of policy, but perhaps one of the most anticipated programs was emergency rental assistance. Congress set aside $25 billion for the effort, which will allow residents to apply for funding if they meet certain criteria.
More than a month since its passage, the program is largely still not up and running. But participating counties and cities have now started to receive their slices of funding, and they are working to implement a process for tenants — or landlords on their behalf — to apply.
To be eligible to receive rent relief, tenants must make 80 percent or less or the area median income, have faced financial hardship because of the pandemic and be at risk of homelessness or “housing instability.” For the Tampa Bay metro area, 80 percent of the area median income is $56,250 for a family of four, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
One reason the administration of this program could be more difficult than previous coronavirus aid is because the Department of Treasury, under former President Donald Trump, said that applicants would need to provide documents showing they met the required criteria, said Kody Glazer, legal director of the Florida Housing Coalition. With previous relief programs under the CARES Act, applicants were able to just sign a form swearing under penalty of perjury that they had suffered financial hardship from the pandemic and fit the income parameters (the rule that the tenant be at risk of homelessness or instability is also new, and was added by Congress).
For example, the Treasury has said renters must demonstrate that risk of instability by submitting documents like past-due rent or utility notices, or eviction notices.
It’s possible that the new administration under President Joe Biden would remove the documentation requirement, Glazer said. At the bottom of the Treasury department’s website on the rental relief program, there’s a note that says the department is “revising” its FAQ page, and “additional guidance will be forthcoming.”
Either way, it will largely be up to state and local governments to distribute the funding to residents. Here is how much the different governments in Tampa Bay are getting in federal emergency rental assistance money, according to the Treasury, and what each said about the expected timing of the program’s roll-out:
Pinellas County: $21,428,218.80
County administrator Barry Burton mentioned the funding at a Jan. 26 meeting of county commissioners. When asked about the timeline for dispersing the money, Burton said he wasn’t sure yet.
“It has all kinds of program requirements. We’re working through in trying to find the way we can deliver on these services. Once we firm that up, we’ll bring that back to you,” he said, referencing the commissioners. It was not an agenda item at the most recent commission meeting on Feb. 9.
St. Petersburg: $8,012,455.90
Rob Gerdes, the city’s administrator for neighborhood affairs, said he did not have a date as to when the funds would be available. But he noted that residents seeking rental or mortgage assistance need not wait until these federal dollars get off the ground — the city has funded a separate assistance program through Catholic Charities and Boley Centers, which is currently active.
More information on how to apply can be found here.
Hillsborough County: $32,377,869.60; Tampa: $12,069,216.40
Although Hillsborough County and Tampa each received their own separate sums, the county is “in communication” with the city about merging their funding, according to a statement from the county’s department of social services.
The program will be administered by that county department, and more details on when residents can seek the money are expected to be discussed at the Feb. 17 meeting of the board of county commissioners, the statement said.
Pasco County: $16,726,810.60
“We’re planning to open applications in mid-to-late February,” said spokeswoman Tambrey Laine in an email. She added that residents should monitor the county’s website and social media platforms for updates.
Hernando County: $0
The federal government only allowed local governments with at least 200,000 residents to participate in the rental assistance program — a cutoff that just barely left out Hernando County.
However, the county is still designating $200,000 from the previous stimulus package, the CARES Act, to create a similar program in partnership with the United Way, said spokeswoman Kasey Kupcik.
“Directions on how to apply will be announced in the near future,” she said.
Times staff writers Josh Solomon and Tracey McManus contributed to this report.
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