ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Within hours of the Orange County eviction diversion program portal opening, more than a thousand tenants had applied for housing assistance.
The portal for the new program opened Tuesday at 9 a.m. The county allocated $20 million in federal CARES Act money to help residents who have been unable to pay their rent because they’ve lost their income due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The program is meant for those who are at least two months behind on their housing bills and are at risk of being evicted without some sort of relief.
Both landlords and tenants must be willing to participate.
Earlier in the summer when Orange County offered rent assistance, the portal would close within minutes due to an influx of applicants. That program has since been closed.
On Tuesday, the process seemed to go smoother. Orange County provided these numbers showing how many applications had been submitted as of noon:
- Pre-screens in progress: 553
- Pre-screens submitted: 522
- Pre-screens under review by the Orange County Bar Association to then outreach to landlords: 33
- Landlords contacted: 37
- Total number of tenants in pre-screening: 1,145
- Landlord applications: (initiated process)
- Applications in progress: 249
- Applications submitted: 67
- Total number of landlord applications: 316
- Landlord and tenant pre-screens matched: 1
Charlean Bridges said she’s been trying her best to be strong for her family during these uncertain times. She said she lost her job in April and plans to apply for the eviction diversion program.
“It’s still for me and my family,” said Bridges. “Any type of help is greatly needed and we appreciate it.”
She said her two young boys are learning online from home and that makes things even tougher.
“I can’t afford to not have internet. I can’t afford to not have a place for them to learn because I can’t send them to the school,” said Bridges.
On Monday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings urged landlords and tenants to have their documents in order because the payments will be handed out on a “first-come, first ready” basis and if an application is not completed properly, it will delay the process.
“The goal of the COVID-19 eviction diversion program is to help stabilize residents who are in imminent danger of being evicted due to the coronavirus. This program not only works with tenants who are facing eviction but also landlords who are also paying rent, in some cases mortgage payments, on the buildings and the properties that they own,” Demings said.
Judge Eric DuBois was also present at Monday’s news conference and provided more information about the preparation that went into creating the program.
“What we’ve done with the apartment association is asked the apartments, to tell us and provide us a list of ‘these are the list of tenants that are in jeopardy and we are willing to participate in this program with these tenants.‘ And then we’ve asked them to go to the tenants and say, ‘Hey look, here’s your three-day notice, this is what you owe, or if you don’t have the money you can participate in this program by going to this webpage and filling out the paperwork’ and that’s what will be sent to the (Orange County) Bar Association,” DuBois said.
Though landlords and tenants both need to agree to participate, they don’t need to both apply at the same time. Instead, the applications will be merged and the local Bar Association will ensure that if a tenant applies, their landlord will be contacted and vice versa.
DuBois said so far this month, 471 evictions have been filed in Orange County compared to 1,061 in August 2019.
“Our hope is that people will take advantage of this, landlords and tenants, and avoid that black mark on someone’s record that will stay with them for life,” DuBois said.
Orlando city commissioner Bakari Burns is holding a virtual Facebook town hall Thursday with a few community partners aimed at educating and helping people who are facing an eviction.
“We just wanted to inform the community and our residents about some of the options available for them,” Burns said. “We want to make sure we give them a forum one to hear from them.”
The town hall will be on the commissioner’s Facebook page. He’s partnering with the Legal Aid Society and the Orange County Bar Association to talk about the state’s moratorium on evictions expiring on Sept. 1, and what legal options and tools renters have should they face eviction. He said a county representative will also be in attendance.
Burns will also discuss the pressure mass evictions will have on the county’s system of care for individuals experiencing homelessness.
To apply for the program or to see all the necessary documentation, go to OCFL.net.