Local Florida officials become latest to create Eviction Diversion Program to help renters

The $20 million program, funded by money allotted locally from the CARES Act, will begin its application process on Aug. 25

More relief is on the way for Orange County, Florida tenants in imminent danger of eviction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Orange County Board of County Commissioners has unanimously approved the Orange County COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Program, an income-based assistance program that will provide tenants unable to pay their rent with up to $4,000 in relief.

“COVID-19 adds a lot of stress to our lives. One thing I don’t want our Orange County residents – especially the very low and low income – is to worry about being evicted from their homes,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings in a statement. “This new assistance program will help our residents stay afloat during this unprecedented time.”

Those eligible to apply for the program must meet the following criteria:

  • Orange County resident
  • Property is the tenant’s primary residence
  • Lease is in the tenant’s name and tenant is responsible for paying a portion or the full amount
  • One or more members of the household experienced a documented, involuntary loss of income that occurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency
  • Date of job loss, reduction in employment hours or pay occurred between March 13, 2020 and September 1, 2020
  • Must have received an eviction notice, letter from their landlord to participate in the program or referral from the court
  • At least two months behind in rent and the arrears were accrued between April 1, 2020 and August 11, 2020
  • No other person in the household has applied for or will apply for the Orange County COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Program
  • Required to certify their household income prior to and after April 1, 2020
  • Eligibility is income-based with a focus on very low and low income
  • Demonstrates ability to pay rent after arrears are paid by Orange County

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The $20 million program is funded by money allotted locally from the CARES Act passed by the federal government. Of the $20 million allocated, $5.7 million is from the Florida Housing CARES Act— Coronavirus Relief Funds. The program will allocate $11 million to very low-income households, $8 million for low-income households, and $1 million for moderate-income households. Priority will be given to families and seniors over the age of 65.

The application will go live on Aug. 25 via the online portal on the Orange County Cares Act website, where tenants or landlords can submit an application. Tenants who submit an application must get their landlord to agree to not continue the eviction process.

There must also be a contractual agreement between the landlord and tenant through Dec. 31, and the landlord must agree to sign a work-out agreement with the tenant that ensures they will not initiate the tenant eviction process for 60 days after receiving payment from the county.

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Orange County is the latest to offer a rent assistance program as the clock is ticking on eviction moratoriums expiring across the country.

The state of Michigan has unveiled a similar program which allocates $50 million to help tenants and landlords resolve eviction filings and $10 million to cover legal services, administrative costs, and case management for Housing Assessment and Resource Agencies.

Michigan's Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) rental assistance payments will cover up to 90% of the past-due rent for qualifying individuals. Landlords will be required to forgive 10% of the past-due rent and remove any late fees or penalties from the amount due. CRF funds can only be used on rent due beginning March 1, 2020.

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Some areas are also offering delays in a tenant's court date and free legal advice.

According to WTVQ, Jefferson County, Kentucky is launching a pilot program that would put eviction hearings on hold for seven days to give tenants the opportunity to explore and apply for any available funding through local agencies partnering with the Louisville Metro Government. The Legal Aid Society in Louisville will also provide free civil legal aid to eligible clients.

In Virginia, tenants may be able to get a 60-day delay in their court case if they can prove they lost income between March 12 and June 10, 2020 and have an eviction case scheduled for September 10 or earlier.

Tenants will be required to show up to their first court date and request a 60-day "continuance", with written proof of a loss of income, including a paystub showing zero dollars in earnings, a furlough notification letter from an employer, an ‘essential employee status letter’ stating that the tenant was ‘nonessential’, and an affidavit stating a loss of wages during this period due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Tenants can also receive free legal advice from an attorney by calling the Eviction Legal Helpline (833-NoEvict) or their local legal aid office (866-LEGLAID)

In addition, Virginians with federally subsidized housing or in a property with a federally backed mortgage are also eligible for eviction protections through the CARES Act until August 25.

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The CARES Act, pass by Congress in March, issued a 120-day temporary eviction moratorium on renters in federal housing assistance programs or those who live in a property with a federally backed mortgage. That eviction moratorium expired in July.

As stimulus talks remain at a stalemate on Capitol Hill, one of four executive orders signed by President Trump on Saturday directs his administration to identify available funds to "provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners who, as a result of the financial hardships caused by COVID-19, are struggling to meet their monthly rental or mortgage obligations."

A new report by the Aspen Institute, estimates that between 30 million to 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction over the next several months.

There are some 110 million Americans living in rental households, with up to 23 million renters – or 20% – who are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

A study by Apartment List, an online rental platform, found that at least 32% of households still owed money at the beginning of August for rent or mortgage payments from previous months, with more than 20% who owe more than $1,000.

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