At long last, Florida’s state government is accepting applications for more than $800 million in federal emergency rental assistance funds designed to help struggling tenants and landlords during the pandemic. The application website, OURFlorida.com, launched last week.
The program, dubbed OUR Florida, or Opportunities for Utilities and Rental Assistance, is open to any Florida residents. That’s different than many of the local emergency rental assistance programs rolled out by county and city governments, which were often restricted to people who lived in those areas.
All are funded by $25 billion in total rental assistance included in the stimulus package passed by Congress in the final days of 2020.
Local governments with more than 200,000 constituents — including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties as well as the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa — were eligible to receive a slice of the federal money. But those with smaller populations, like Hernando County, were excluded, though they sometimes used other batches of funds to still offer relief. Their residents would now be eligible under this relief effort.
To receive money to help cover rent and utilities, renters must earn at or below 80 percent of their area median income, which differs by location. In the Tampa Bay area, that number is $56,250 for a family of four. Tenants who earn 50 percent of their area median income or below ($35,150 for a family of four in Tampa Bay) or who have experienced unemployment within the past 90 days will be prioritized.
Applicants must submit some documents to prove their income eligibility, such as 2020 tax filings, monthly pay stubs or bank statements, according to a fact sheet on the application website.
Qualified renters must also have experienced a loss of income or other financial hardship from the pandemic, and must be “at risk of losing their home or are living in unstable or unhealthy conditions,” according to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which is overseeing the program. Landlords can also apply on behalf of their tenants, with renters’ signatures.
The state’s application website also includes a questionnaire to help people determine their eligibility.
“Low income families are on the verge of homelessness, and this program will provide a safety net to keep families stable and in their homes,” said Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
The state also hired a consulting firm called Tidal Basin to help administer the rental assistance program. The department did not immediately respond to a question about how much that contract was worth.