OURFlorida Rental Assistance stops applying for

The US Treasury-funded program has spent more than $1.3 billion, helped 228K residents and closed to applications on May 12 — but some local programs may still be offering help.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The only state-funded initiative that has helped residents afford recent price hikes in the rental housing market is no longer accepting applications.

OURFlorida, an emergency aid program funded by the United States Department of the Treasury, was closed to applications on May 12, according to a press release on the program’s website, stating that it had allocated all of its available funding.

According to a press release, the program has spent more than $1.3 billion helping more than 228,000 residents with rent or utility arrears.

Florida had about 2.7 million tenants in 2019, according to the most recent data estimate from the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. That number could be much higher now as thousands of people flocked to the Sunshine State amid the coronavirus pandemic after remote work became the norm and people sought more outdoor recreation and a better quality of life.

In addition, about 71% of low-income Florida renters and 42% of middle-income residents are expected to face high costs — or spend more than 30% of their income on housing — this year, according to the report. National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Those statistics are likely to worsen, coalition vice president Andrew Aurand told TCPalm last month.

“Low-income renters struggled to pay their rent even before the pandemic and even before this significant rent spike,” Aurand said. “When they are heavily burdened by housing, they cut back on other necessities: food, medical care, other things they need.”

Florida rental market skyrockets

According to data from ApartmentList.com, rents in Florida increased by about 32% between 2019 and 2021.

In April, Florida housing markets accounted for eight of the top 10 in the country with the largest rent increases over the year, based on a monthly index from Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Alabama.

  • Fort Myers: 32.38%
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale: 31.7%
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton: 30.88%
  • Tamper: 26.93%
  • Port St Lucie: 25.54%
  • Lakeland: 23.92%
  • Orlando: 23.7%
  • Melbourne: 22.46%

There are a few reasons that industry professionals cite as the catalyst behind these recent price increases: high demand, low inventory and a lack of affordable housing.

Florida Rental Help

A spokesperson for OURFlorida would not officially answer TCPalm’s questions about the program, but it could receive more funding in the future, said Kody Glazer, legal director for the Florida Housing Coalition. The Treasury Department could allocate resources not fully utilized in other municipalities to markets, such as Florida, which are depleted and still urgently needed. But until that happens, there’s no statewide rental assistance program available to Florida residents.

That burden now falls on local governments, Glazer said.

“It really depends on where someone lives and what the local government does about it,” he said. “It just depends on whether the local government has used any other funding sources they have…to set aside for rental assistance.”

There were 32 county and city governments across Florida that also received funding from the Treasury Department’s emergency response programs, Glazer said, and those communities may still have funding available.

Port St. Lucie, for example, is one of those municipalities and is still accepting applications, said Alex Tasca, director of community services. More than $1.7 million was available, Tasca said, and about $847,000 has already been approved, processed and paid to residents. It is not known exactly how much funding is still available, as some applications may have been approved but not yet disbursed, she added.

Martin County, which did not receive funding from the Treasury Department, allocated $100,000 received through the American Rescue Plan Act to rent assistance, Human Services administrator Michelle Miller said. The county still had about $57,000 available as of June 15, Miller added, and about another $25,000 that can still be used in the Community Services Block Grant funded by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) .

“A lot of these leases are band-aids or short-term fixes until that pot of money runs out,” Glazer said.

© 2022 Journal Media Group. Catie Wegman is TCPalm’s housing and real estate reporter.

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