FILE - Florida housing

In this Monday, June 13, 2016 photo, graffiti is written on the side of a mobile home at the Little Farm trailer park in El Portal, Fla. In a city known for its glitzy, luxurious condo towers, affordable rental housing is hard to come by.

(The Center Square) — With the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) nationwide eviction moratorium ending Sunday, Florida begins the week with more than $850 million in Congressionally-approved pandemic assistance in state coffers about 140,000 households at risk of eviction.

Florida’s revamped emergency rental assistance program, Opportunities for Utilities & Rental Assistance Florida (OUR Florida), managed by the state’s Department of Children & Families (DCF), had distributed only 2% of the $870 million in federal rental assistance funds Florida had received by Friday.

DCF spokeswoman Mallory McManus told The Tampa Bay Times Friday DCF had distributed $18.3 million to 4,300 applicants with more than 26,000 applications pending.

According to estimates, more than 540,000 of the Sunshine State’s 6.2 million homeowners were behind of mortgage payments, and up to 370,000 Floridians behind on rent in July.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey in July estimated 7.4 million households nationwide were behind on mortgages and rent.

In Florida, the Bureau’s July survey estimates 540,664 Floridian homeowners were behind on mortgage payments and 357,194 households behind on rent.

Using those survey results, a July 24 eviction forecast study by Zillow projects of those nearly 360,000 households, 144,220 – 40.4% – are at risk of eviction, forecasting 22,411 eviction filings with 12,376 likely resulting in eviction.

A study by health research firm Surgo Ventures estimates 369,000 Florida households are late on rent.

Congress passed two rounds of pandemic rental assistance totaling $46.5 billion with adoptions of the March 2020 CARES Act and March 2021 American Rescue Plan. States and local governments had only distributed 6.5% of the funding through June, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Affordable housing advocates fear a cumbersome process could not just delay allocation of monies bur result in “unspent” monies being allocated elsewhere.

The Florida Housing Finance Corp. (FHFC), established by the Legislature to develop affordable housing, returned $99 million of $120 million in CARES Act funding it received from the CARES Act to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for “repurposing.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told reporters last week the money was used “to support ongoing pandemic response expenses of the state” but did not elaborate.

FHFC dispersed about $13.2 million to help tenants at 373 apartment complexes across the state before the Dec. 31, 2020 deadline to spend it expired and it was transferred to the DEO. It also distributed $98.3 million in rental assistance ,and $18.1 million in mortgage relief, through 119 local Florida government housing offices.

The DCF in May launched OUR Florida. Through mid-July, OUR Florida paid more than $3.9 million in rental or utility assistance to 869 individuals “with an additional $24 million obligated to more than 7,030 clients” by the end of July.

Affordable housing advocates say OUR Florida’s online application process is slow, cumbersome and penalizes those without computers.

Among Florida Housing Coalition (FHC) criticisms is the system requires landlords create new accounts and re-apply for every tenant seeking assistance.

Floridians who rent their home, apartment, or other dwelling where they live and are behind on rent, are eligible for assistance through OUR Florida if they:

  • Earn an income at or below 80% of the area’s median income;
  • Are unemployed, have experienced a loss of income or financial hardship during the last year;
  • Are delinquent with rent or utilities payment or at risk of falling behind.

“Applicants are highly encouraged to gather all required documentation and to coordinate with their landlord prior to applying to ensure a quick determination and payment process,” OUR Florida says. “Complete applications that match registered landlords can be processed and verified in as little as 18 days. Benefits are paid directly to the landlord or utility provider.”