ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Days after rolling out a crisis hotline for Orange County residents to apply for help paying rent during the coronavirus pandemic, county officials have rolled out a new method for inquiring about payment assistance after the call line was flooded with people in need of rent assistance.
Orange County director of community and family services Lonnie Bell said in a news conference Thursday that the county has received an overwhelming number of calls since it launched Monday, which has presented several challenges since the initial roll out. On Tuesday, just one day after the hotline launched, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings the call center was flooded with calls, receiving more than 127,000 since Monday.
Bell said his team recognized the challenges they were facing and took “aggressive actions,” including increasing the number of call takers to cut down callers’ wait time. Earlier this week, callers were waiting 20 minutes or longer for assistance, Bell said. Since the changes, callers are waiting less than 15 minutes.
County leaders also enhanced their ability to take calls by adding an online system, which Bell said is the quickest and most convenient way for people to look into getting help with rent during the COVID-19 outbreak. Click here to access the online system.
Bell said the rental assistance program will continue to take calls Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon for those who don’t have access to the online system.
He asked residents who have contacted the program online not to call, adding that doing both will just slow down the process and could delay their response time.
Bell said the county recognizes that the need is great right now and that his team will get back to everyone using the online system in a very timely manner.
For those who wish to reach the rental assistance program by phone, the number to call is 407-836-6500.
Officials said the county will provide one-time rent assistance to county residents unable to make their payments because they’ve been furloughed during the outbreak. Currently, the program is 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, 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.
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.
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.
At last check, more than 2,300 cases of COVID-19 have been reported statewide, with at least 110 confirmed cases in Orange County.
According to the mayor, the youngest person to test positive for the novel coronavirus in Orange County is 9 years old. Demings said four deaths have been reported countywide.
Orange and Osceola counties have more cases reported than other Central Florida counties, according to numbers from the Florida Department of Health. Both counties have issued mandatory stay-at-home orders that go into effect Thursday night. Thus far, those two are the only local counties to take that step.
In recent days, Gov. Ron DeSantis has doubled down on his reasoning for not issuing a state-wide mandate, saying that it would be too disruptive to businesses and the everyday lives of those who live in areas without community transmission.