Gov. Ron DeSantis once again extended Florida’s statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for a month — this time until Aug. 1. While the move is the right one, the extension remains a temporary solution to a long-term problem, with almost 2 million Floridians still unemployed and many unable to pay their rent or mortgages. It’s time for the state and the federal government to find ways to provide more housing assistance. A $1,200 stimulus check wasn’t enough to protect people for months without work. Putting off evictions only piles up more water behind the dam. Wait too long to act and the resulting deluge of evictions will further swamp the economy.
This is the second time in just over a month that DeSantis has extended the moratorium hours before it was set to lapse. As the deadline loomed, he gave no indication whether he would extend it or not, leaving many renters wondering if they could get evicted on July 1. At a news conference after his decision, he told a reporter that he waited because: “We’ve got a lot going on, man. I mean, we’re working 24/7 on a lot of different things.” That’s true, but keeping people in their homes must remain a top priority. In Pinellas, there are more than 250 pending eviction cases. Hillsborough has more than 420, with 180 cases in the final stage. Only DeSantis’ moratorium and a local court order barring evictions keeps those renters from getting kicked out of their homes. If either order were to expire, eviction notices could soon follow.
Landlords aren’t the bad guys in this struggle. For many, tenants are their main source of income. They essentially run a small business, so if renters don’t pay, their business can go under. Many have mortgages to pay or investors to satisfy. They also use the rents they collect to pay property and other taxes that keep local and state governments operating. In the Tampa Bay area, the rate of tenants unable to pay rent has gone from 2 percent to 4 percent, according to the owner of a company that manages the rentals of around 1,000 largely single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area. Translation: landlords are hurting, too. The moratorium has also halted evictions that were in progress before coronavirus hit, meaning some landlords have had trouble removing tenants who haven’t paid since February or earlier.
The system is obviously broken. Renters worry that at some point they will have to make up their unpaid rent or move out. Landlords know they may never get back those months of income. Housing should be near the top of the list as the federal government considers expanding financial assistance programs. Potential housing programs could include a stimulus check earmarked towards paying housing costs — rents or mortgages. The HEROES Act already has some good targeted strategies, though it is still up for debate in the U.S. Senate. Chief among them would be a $100 billion emergency rental assistance program that would help with utilities and monthly rent.
To get back to normal — whatever that looks like going forward — it will help to get a grip on an uncomfortable truth: A lot of people could be out of work for a long time. That means that renters and landlords will continue to be threatened, something a pause on evictions and foreclosures will not solve. Instead, the government should step up and provide targeted assistance to help keep people in their homes, for their betterment and for sake of the overall economy.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news