By Kevin Deutsch
More Broward County renters impacted by the pandemic may qualify for pandemic rental assistance thanks to $22 million in new funding from the federal government, county officials said.
The money is for people in need of relief from past due and unpaid rent and utilities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused more than one million deaths in the U.S.
Nearly 5,000 households have already received money from the first round of U.S Treasury emergency assistance funding in Broward, which totaled $53 million.
“At a time when other city and state emergency rental assistance programs are coming to a close, Broward County has received an additional $22 million in funding to continue this important family lifeline,” the county government said in an announcement this month.
Broward County’s Human Services Department’s Family Success Division administers the pandemic relief program, known as ERAP. Agency officials said a number of adjustments were made to ERAP this month that make qualifying and applying for funding easier for county residents.
The changes include:
- Providing eligible households with up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance—measured from March 13, 2020— if qualifying criteria are met.
- Financial hardship can be experienced “during” the pandemic instead of “due to” the pandemic.
- Applicant income can now be verified by self-attestation.
- Payments can be made to the tenant if the landlord or property manager does not wish to participate in the application process.
Expenses eligible under the program are:
- Rent increases that will cause financial hardship.
- Past due rent, including applicable late fees and administrative fees.
- Past-due utility and home energy costs, including electricity, gas, water, and trash removal.
- Future rent (up to three months), if appropriate and determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Relocation expenses, including first, last, rental security deposit, and hotel costs.
To be eligible for the program, county residents must be:
Renting a unit, apartment, or house in Broward County and include at least one individual who meets these five criteria:
1) Be a Broward County resident 2) Unable to pay full rent during or as a result of a COVID-19 caused financial hardship 3) In receipt of a valid notice of a rent increase they are unable to pay 4) At risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability (including eviction notices, utility shutoff notice, past due rent or utility notice, or any other evidence of unsafe or unhealthy living conditions or housing instability, and 5) Making household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income, which is $49,300, according to the ERAP website.
All program funds must be used to reduce the household’s rent or utility arrears before future payments can be made. Once arrears are reduced, future payments for up to three months at a time can be considered, officials said.
The program will not provide assistance that duplicates any other federally funded rental assistance provided for the same time period, according to the county.
County officials said they will be reviewing all previously denied applications to see if applicants meet requirements under the expanded program.
“Applicants that have previously been denied are advised that a new application is not required for reconsideration unless individual/family circumstances have substantially changed since the first application was submitted,” the county said in its announcement.
For detailed information about the requirements of ERAP and a link to apply, or to check the status of an existing application, visit Broward.org/RentAssistance.
The status of previously declined applications will be updated on the website as reviews for eligibility under the new criteria are completed.
Residents with additional questions can call 954-831-ERAP (3727).
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.