After weeks of calls for an extension from local and national housing advocates who fear a possible spike in homelessness, the federal moratorium on evictions will expire Saturday.
The moratorium was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall in an effort to curb COVID-19 spread that could come from families being forced to combine households or move into crowded shelters filled with strangers. Since then it has faced a series of lawsuits brought up by landlord groups.
After multiple extensions, the CDC announced that after July 31 it would not be extended again. But that announcement came before new cases of COVID-19 started to sky-rocket again, propelled by a super-contagious strain of the virus known as the delta variant.
On Tuesday, Orange County saw 1,371 new infections, the most ever reported in a single day, leading Mayor Jerry Demings to declare a new state of emergency. Late Thursday, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando, cosponsored legislation to extend the moratorium through the end of the year. And on Friday, housing advocacy group Florida Rising launched a petition calling for local county mayors, commissions and sheriffs to work together to protect renters.
Advocates are now doubly worried that, without a last-minute extension, families in Central Florida and across the state will find themselves homeless and even more vulnerable as the pandemic reaches new heights.
“We are still getting folks reaching out to us for assistance,” said Shakhea Hinton, Central Florida regional director for Florida Rising. “My team was just out in an apartment complex in Orange County on Tuesday helping folks register for this money that’s still available. Folks are still frantic.”
The threat of the delta variant is dire enough on its own, but Hinton said it’s not the only cause for heightened concern.
“I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel just yet,” Hinton said. “The numbers are still spiking up. Hospitals are now back at yellow and red status. We’re in the peak of hurricane season. We haven’t even factored in natural disasters. God forbid we should have a hurricane come in the next couple of weeks, where are these families going to go?”
And with an ongoing debate over whether masks will be required in schools while more children are contracting the newest strain of the virus, Hinton said elected officials who allow the moratorium to expire are not reckoning with the true potential impact.
Hinton said many residents who put in applications for assistance as recently as this week are concerned they may be pushed out before the rental aid arrives. Even when the process runs smoothly and renters can produce all the necessary paperwork to prove they qualify for county programs, it can take several weeks between the time an application is submitted and a check is written to their landlord.
At the beginning of July, Orange County Government reported that between 200 and 250 people were applying for aid every week. Program Manager Dianne Arnold said demand has gone up slightly in the past few weeks as the end of the moratorium nears but she attributes that to an increase in awareness.
In addition to media coverage, Arnold said the county held a training session to teach others how to help people apply for rental assistance. The county has also put up flyers at food banks, in laundromats, at bus stops and in other high traffic areas and has started to work with the Orange County Clerk’s Office to get a weekly list of eviction filings so staff can proactively reach out to renters and landlords who might need aid, she said.
She pointed out that there have been rental assistance programs available for most of the past year and that, even if a wave of need comes after Saturday, Orange County, Orlando and the surrounding areas still have millions in aid to distribute and plenty of time before that money needs to be spent.
“We don’t feel there will be a huge mass wave of evictions,” Arnold said.