As Florida cities and counties receive billions of federal dollars that can be used to assist renters and their landlords in the wake of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued a new moratorium on evictions until October 3, replacing an eviction moratorium that expired at the end of July.
As reported earlier this week by The Capitolist, at the end of May, Florida received $8.8 billion in American Recovery Act (ARA) funding, with 67 counties in Florida splitting $4.1 billion and 77 Florida cities getting a total topping $1.5 billion that can be used for a laundry list of COVID-related programs, including housing assistance. That money is in addition to $25 billion in federal funding allocated in February through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and distributed to state, local, and Tribal governments by the Treasury Department.
Local coffers are overflowing with federal funds but little of it has made it into the hands of renters and even less on to the landlords.
According to ABC-7, city and county officials in southwest Florida were scrambling to try to connect people to housing funds in the days before the original eviction moratorium ended.
Lee County got more than $20 million from the federal government in February. That money was marked specifically for emergency rental assistance. A spokesperson for Lee County told ABC-7 they had only spent a quarter of that money so far.
Add to that money $28 million Lee County spent on housing assistance in 2020. then add even more in ARA money which arrived in May for Lee County and Fort Myers, $149,675,549 and $15,759,486.00 respectively, and there is a staggering amount of money to distribute.
Cities and counties cite difficulty setting up the bureaucracy to distribute the funds, so while Florida residents wait, the federal government doubles down on an eviction moratorium that the U.S. Supreme Court has warned is most likely unconstitutional.
“Governor Ron DeSantis has said the CDC is overstepping its power as a federal bureaucracy that is supposed to be making health recommendations. How does the CDC have the legal authority to unilaterally infringe on property rights?” said the Governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in a statement to The Capitolist.
The Governor believes a longer-term solution is the distribution of congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.
“Though these federal funds have stringent eligibility requirements, Congress did appropriate them to help property owners receive the payments they are owed from renters,” Pushaw said.
She said, “The eviction moratorium was ostensibly supposed to prevent people from being evicted due to a failure to pay rent, caused by pandemic-related income loss. An eviction moratorium was never meant to be a long-term solution and is not a sustainable policy. Logically, allowing people to live rent-free indefinitely runs the risk of creating a shortage of affordable housing. Fewer people would want to be landlords, if they are required to let tenants live on their property, rent-free, without the recourse of eviction for those who do not pay rent.”
Erwin Jackson, owner of Jackson Properties in Tallahassee, agrees with the Governor’s Office. He says the moratorium has cost him approximately $200,000 this year. He said many of his tenants could pay their rent but chose not to because of the eviction moratorium. Some have received federal funds to assist with their rent, but have pocketed the money instead of paying rent with it. Even when Jackson has received the funds, he said the paperwork to document the receipt of federal funds is a “nightmare.”
“No one feels sorry for a landlord. They never do,” said Jackson. “They think someone gave me the real estate that I’ve acquired over 40 years. (Despite COVID) I’m working seven days a week. I have staff I have to pay and when a tenant has a toilet that doesn’t work, I can’t tell them I’ll fix it when COVID is over. But, people don’t care I’ve lost $200,000. They just say, ‘well he can afford it.’ I mean it is just aggravating. But it’s not just me. There are a lot of landlords who only have one or two properties and use rent to pay their mortgage on the property. I’m afraid a lot of them won’t make it and will have to foreclose.”
He said he has one tenant that owes him seven or eight thousand dollars. “That’s just one tenant. We’ve got numerous renters, who are not paying rent. They think ‘why should I pay the rent when the government says I don’t have to?’”
He said “a fraction” of his tenants got this “free money” but didn’t pass it to the landlord to pay rent.
“So, they got a free place to stay. They got free cash and the landlord got nothing.”
All the while, millions sit in state and local coffers, while bureaucrats determine how to dole out the dollars.
There are some restrictions on who receives the money.
To receive the federal assistance, residents must be unemployed due to COVID-19, have experienced reductions in household income, faced high costs due to the pandemic, or experienced financial hardships due to the virus. The applicants must also demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness without assistance. Eligible tenants must have a household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income for their community. Once awarded, the funds can be used on expenses such as rent, late fees, and late utility payments.
But Florida has a lower-than-average unemployment rate and thousands of job openings and the Governor believes this is the better cure for the rent eviction problem than extending eviction moratoriums.
“It is ideal when people can afford to pay their rent because they are able to earn an income. In Florida, Governor DeSantis has always focused on protecting the most vulnerable (senior citizens, residents of long-term care facilities) from COVID-19, while allowing Floridians to earn a living, keep their businesses open, and continue to pay their bills,” Pushaw said.