Some Orange County families still face homelessness because of economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to county officials who reported Tuesday that nearly 600 rental households were six months behind on rent when they received relief from an emergency rental assistance program.
The county program has paid about $16.5 million in back rent to landlords for about 2,900 families. Another 700 applications are under review.
About 1,000 applicants who got help from the program were a month or two delinquent in rent, said program manager Dianne Arnold, who updated Orange County commissioners on the status of the relief effort created with about $33.4 million in federal aid to assist beleaguered renters.
But about 600 families who received aid were half a year behind in rent, including 95 families who were 12 months in arrears.
Arnold said about 560 families have applied for the second round of assistance, applying 60 days after the first award because they still qualify.
Program guidelines limit awards to 12 months for back rent and up to three months of prospective rent — with the total not to exceed $30,000, a cap which was raised by $10,000 about six weeks ago. The county still has more than $13 million available to distribute by Sept. 30, 2022.
“If they’re county residents, behind in their rent and they’ve had a COVID impact, they should apply,” Arnold said. “It’s possible for somebody to have a COVID impact now that didn’t have one before depending on their situation as there are more and more people who are contracting the virus.”
The county’s 14-day rolling positivity rate has been as high as 40% in recent days.
She said the program also allows for somebody currently impacted by COVID-19 that wasn’t previously affected to participate, depending on the situation as there are now more people contracting the virus.
Details about the emergency program can be found online by searching for “COVID rental assistance and Orange County Florida.”
The county program is for renters only though Florida homeowners struggling to pay a mortgage were supposed to benefit from $676 million allocated to the state through the Homeowner Assistance Fund, part of the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan signed into law in March by President Joe Biden.
The DEO encourages homeowners needing help to “reach out to your mortgage lender or servicer to inquire about resources available...”
Arnold, who keeps tabs on the state effort, said homeowners can sign up to be notified when assistance is available.
“I know we have a lot of people that are wanting to know about mortgage [relief],” she said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said mortgage relief is critical “if we want to keep people in their homes...”
“I do get calls from time to time in my office from residents who are behind on mortgage payments and facing foreclosure,” he said.
Demings said the county will help spread the word when the state program launches.