1,500 Orange County residents will receive rent assistance due to coronavirus pandemic

County expands hours as crisis call center flooded with calls

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A new proposal to provide one-time rent assistance to Orange County residents who are furloughed or otherwise out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic is currently slated to help 750 people per month for a period of two months.

That means 1,500 people will receive help under the current guidelines, Orange County director of community and family services Lonnie Bell said Tuesday afternoon as he discussed the program during a Board of County Commissioners meeting.

According to a presentation provided by the county, clients will need to have all their documentation in order prior to setting up a phone interview. That documentation includes employment information, mortgage or lease information, pay stub and other income documents and current bank statement.

[READ: Coronavirus: Orange County offers 1-time rent payment help; new testing site opens Monday | Florida working to keep up with coronavirus unemployment assistance calls, applications]

Bell said applicants should know within a day or so after doing a phone interview whether they qualify for assistance, providing that all their documents are in order. From there, it will take a week or two for approved applicants to receive rent assistance.

The proposal estimates that the average client would receive $1,200, which would be paid to his or her landlord.

The cost to help 750 people one month and 750 people the next month would be about $1.8 million.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said it’s unclear how many people will need help but so far, the Crisis Assistance Center hotline has received hundreds of phone calls.

To help an additional 200 renters it would cost $240,000; 400 more would be $480,000 and 800 additional households would require $960,000.

The program is set to run now through May 23.

After the mayor announced the program was available the call center was flooded with calls receiving more than 127,000 since Monday.

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Samantha Morrisey, a local mother who is out of work due to cutbacks at both of her restaurant jobs, said she called the hotline 17 times Monday and 53 times Tuesday and wasn’t able to get through for help.

“It’s really defeating that you can’t get anywhere but to an automated call and get hung up on,” Morrisey said.

Bell said right now, only two people are operating the hotline with plans to add a third. Eight employees are doing interviews with applicants to determine whether they’re eligible for rent assistance.

Due to the demand, the crisis hot line will extend its hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Demings said. Currently, the hot line operators take an hour and half lunch everyday, however, the mayor says they are planning to change the extended lunch break but didn’t offer specifics.

“We’re asking the public to be patient,” Demings said of the issues with the phone lines. “I want to remind our callers this is a one time benefit to Orange County residents only. You must call for an appointment to receive assistance.”

The number to call is 407-836-6500. Residents can also visit www.ocfl.net/Coronavirus for additional resources.

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