Alachua County will receive $8.1 million for emergency rental assistance through the CARES Act.
The Alachua County Commission voted unanimously at a meeting Tuesday to accept the rent relief funds, which will help county residents who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or are at risk of homelessness.
County staff is currently assessing residents who are at the highest risk and creating a rental assistance application for qualifying households.
During the meeting, Commissioner Mary Alford said self reported loss of income should be enough for residents to qualify for rent relief, but vague federal requirements might make this difficult.
The CARES Act defines eligibility as a person whose household income is below 80% of the area’s average income –– about $30,000 in Gainesville. It also includes those who were unemployed for at least 90 days or experienced general financial hardship.
The federal money will be paid directly to landlords and utility providers rather than renters as per CARES Act requirements. Funds can be spent to subsidize rent payments and utilities, but it does not cover mortgage, telephone bills or internet access.
If a landlord opts out of the rental assistance program, the money can be sent directly to the renter, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The funds will apply to rent due from March 2020 to March 2021, commission chairman Ken Cornell said.
Commissioner Anna Prizzia said the commission should make relief applications available on mobile devices, as issues occurred with mobile forms when distributing CARES Act funds last Fall. Prizzia also pushed to replace requiring notarized applications with a simpler two-signer requirement.
The commission should prioritize better phone and in-person options for those without access to the internet, she added.
“I would really like to see us make this application as easy as we're literally allowed to make it,” Prizzia said. “The goal is to get the money out quickly.”
Renters must prove a “demonstrated COVID-19 impact”, which is a term the county commission did not define.
It is unclear whether the Treasury Department will accept a self report or require pay stubs to prove eligibility, Claudia Tuck, Alachua County community support center director, said.
“Sometimes it works more in the favor of the resident to not have it narrowly defined,” she said.
The county is allowed to spend up to 10% of the grant on support systems, such as a help desk, and staff to help get relief money out.
Assistant County Manager Thomas Crosby said there shouldn’t be a big learning curve in handling rent relief applications this time. Application help desks are already in place from the $47 million CARES Act funds the county received in July.
The county has received 30,000 CARES Act help desk calls since August, according to a county analysis.
The county will work with rent relief advocacy groups, like the Alachua County Labor Coalition, as possible partners to help guide the application process.
Alachua County Labor Coalition board member Sheila Payne said the non-profit helps about 40 evicted county residents each week, despite the federal eviction moratorium that prohibits evictions.
County staff will update the commission as more information about the application process is available.
Contact Jack Prator at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_prator.
Jack is a UF journalism sophomore covering the Gainesville City Commission. If he's not in a hammock at the plaza he is probably watching the Queen's Gambit for the fifth time.