Amid rising rents and a flood of evictions, Orange County will stop taking applications Friday for its emergency rental assistance program, which has distributed most of the $30.1 million in federal aid it got to help struggling tenants stay in their homes.
About 1,800 applicants remain in a queue for the income-based program’s remaining dollars that total about $2 million.
The program, which has paid delinquent rent for about 4,700 households, received its funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act approved by Congress in December 2020, said Dianne Arnold who oversees the application process for the county.
Another 450 requests are under review, some in need of additional documentation. Thousands were deemed ineligible.
Although applicants could get up to $30,000 in back rent, the average award per household has been $6,026, county data shows.
When the assistance window closes, another will soon open, Arnold said.
Next month, the county will launch Emergency Rental Assistance Program 2 with another $15.9 million in federal funds.
The figure represents about 40% of $39 million the county could get, although administrators expect the total will be lower.
Funding was part of the American Recovery Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill approved by Congress in March 2021.
As outlined in revised guidelines, rules for the new program, known as ERAP2 for short, are less restrictive than the original program, known as ERAP1, which required applicants to provide proof that they were laid off or experienced financial hardship because of COVID-19 .
Although still income-restricted, ERAP2 is more flexible, said Arnold, division manager of citizen resource and outreach.
Applicants must show they experienced a loss of income “during” the pandemic rather than because of it.
To qualify for rental assistance, a household of one cannot have an annual income greater than $42,750, federal rules say.
A two-person household cannot have an annual income that exceeds $48,850.
Other qualifying incomes and rules are listed on the county’s website by searching for emergency rental assistance.
The average cost of apartment rent in metro Orlando in June jumped 26.6% over the same span a year ago, according to CoStar Group, a real estate tracking firm. Eviction filings through the first six months of 2022 topped 6,500, the most in a half-year span in a decade.
Orange County commissioners are considering a rent-stabilization ordinance that voters would have to approve Nov. 8.
Although many details are in flux, the ordinance would cap rent increases for one year at 5% or the 12-month average for the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. The measure would apply to landlords or property management who own four or more units.
Orange County has about 230,000 renter-occupied units, according to the consultant’s report.
Many eligible Orange County households applied for ERAP1 help although a state program rather than the county’s, Arnold said.
Applicants were not eligible to apply for funds from both the state and the county programs covering the same span of time.
Orange County residents have gotten more than $200 million in rental assistance from the state, the county and a city of Orlando program since the pandemic began two years ago, including $174 million handed out by the state — the most among Florida’s 67 counties.
The state program, credited with assisting about 29,400 Orange county households, ended May 12.
Arnold said no one knows for sure why so many county residents turned to the state’s program, but she has some theories.
“In the beginning, everybody here worried there would be a tsunami of evictions and many, many households were going to need some assistance from us. To help as many as possible, we set our cap at $10,000 a household rather than $15,000 like the state,” she said.
Some furlough notices from local employers also listed links to the state’s assistance program ahead of the county’s, Arnold said.
The county program also did not at first offer funds for future rent.
It doesn’t even happen
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When Florida rolled out its program, it offered both a higher cap and funds for “prospective rent.”
While nearly exhausting ERAP1 money, the county may miss out on some ERAP2 funding for not dispersing it faster.
Arnold said the US Treasury has tracked ERAP2 programs, measuring how quickly they distribute funds.
When the first federal deadline, March 31, passed, the county had not handed out any of its ERAP2 dollars.
Arnold estimated the county might lose $5 million of the $39 million originally promised.
“Our goal has been and remains to keep as many people in their homes and prevent as many evictions as possible,” she said.