Pasco County rent relief program reaches cap in less than 2 hours

But another round of help should be opened soon.
Pasco County opened up the applications for rental assistance, funded by the federal government, on Wednesday.
Pasco County opened up the applications for rental assistance, funded by the federal government, on Wednesday. [ Special to the Times ]
Published Feb. 17, 2021|Updated Feb. 17, 2021

Pasco County became one of first Tampa Bay counties to begin taking applications for low-income residents for federal rent assistance money Wednesday morning.

It reached capacity in less than two hours.

Another round should come soon in Pasco. Other bay-area counties are still preparing similar rental assistance programs with their shares of federal relief money. Polk County was also accepting applications Wednesday.

The aid is part of the long-awaited program passed in the stimulus package that became law late last year. Pasco’s application website opened at 9 a.m. — but closed down shortly thereafter.

Pasco County spokeswoman Tambrey Laine said it filled up in one hour and 25 minutes. By the afternoon, the website said the county had “reached our limit of applications at this time.”

The first round of the program, which is dubbed Pasco Helping with Emergency Assistance Relief for Tenants, or HEART, started with a cap of 500 people on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a news release.

The federal emergency rental assistance program, created by Congress and distributed through local governments, is open to tenants who meet the following three requirements:

  • 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

However, Pasco County only opened this first phase of applications to renters who meet a lower, prioritized income threshold: 50 percent or less of the area median income. That translates to $35,150 for a family of four, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Based on that same data, 80 percent of the area median income for the Tampa Bay area is $56,250 for a family of four. Laine wrote in an email that more aid would be available, including for those who make 51 to 80 percent of the area median income, “in the coming weeks/months.” The county is encouraging residents to monitor for updates.

The Pasco program, in accordance with federal rules, can be used for rent or utilities, and can pay up to 15 months’ worth of bills for those who qualify. Tenants must also be able to prove Pasco residency.

Hillsborough and Pinellas have not yet opened their applications, but leaders there have said they’re working to roll them out soon. Hernando County did not meet the 200,000-person population threshold to be eligible to receive federal rent relief money as part of this stimulus package, but the county has said it is using a different batch of funds to create a similar rental assistance program.

Related: Here’s how much Tampa Bay cities, counties got for pandemic rent relief

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

VACCINES Q & A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

FACE MASKS: Read the latest on guidelines, tips for comfort and long-term wear

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

A TRIBUTE TO THE FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.