One of the long-term side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could be its impact on the housing market.
Whether it’s due to illness, loss of wages, or a combination of both, many tenants have fallen behind on their bills.
Now, we are beginning to see a wave of evictions, and even as infection rates rise again, legal protections and financial assistance programs are ending.
TENANTS UNDER PRESSURE
When the pandemic began in March, Tiffany Ford was one of thousands of South Floridians out of work.
The single mother who lived in Lake Worth had to rely on unemployment to support her three young children.
But now that unemployment benefits have been cut, he’s fallen behind on his bills and faces eviction.
“It was just days of crying, frustration, stress, wondering what to do if the worst happens.” Ford said. “My landlord said if I can’t get the money, he wants me out for the weekend.”
She is one of more than 15,000 Palm Beach County residents who have applied for rental assistance funds through the county’s CARES Act funds.
The rental and utility assistance program was established to keep Palm Beach County residents safe in their homes during the pandemic, even if they have fallen behind on rent and other payments.
Public health officials have warned that evictions could lead to overcrowded homes and shelters, where the virus can spread more easily.
In the spring, evictions for public health reasons were stopped.
But now that Governor DeSantis has fully reopened Florida’s economy, he has let his moratorium on evictions expire, and a wave of evictions is beginning again.
According to the Palm Beach County Clerk’s Office, more than 3,000 eviction notices have been filed in the county since April.
PROTECTIONS AND ASSISTANCE IN EXECUTION
The pandemic is far from over, but financial assistance and legal protections are running out for tenants facing eviction.
This week, the Palm Beach County Department of Community Services stopped accepting applications for the limited CARES Act rental assistance funds.
Director James Green told CBS12 News that his staff have been going through a flood of applications, working on weekends and holidays to catch up.
So far, the county has issued more than 5,000 checks to property owners and managers to keep evictions at bay, dispersing more than $ 9 million, with more money already approved for processing.
Tiffany Ford says her application has been processed and she is still waiting for the funds. She thinks her family will be safe from eviction for now, but worries about what the new year will bring.
This is because a CDC order stopping the evictions will expire on December 31.
Right now, that order is the only protection tenants like Tiffany have.
As housing attorney Tequisha Myles explained, the tenant has a responsibility to know that the CDC order exists, complete it, and present it to the landlord or judge in the event an eviction notice is filed.
“When January comes, if there is no extension of the moratorium, I think we will have many tenants, families with children, faced with moving into another family member’s house and having an overcrowded house there, or we are going to have an epidemic of homeless people we really can’t afford. “
Myles is a senior attorney with the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society, which provides representation to low-income residents in eviction cases.
“I’ve been at Legal Aid through the foreclosure crisis and all kinds of natural disasters,” he said. “I think this [pandemia] It has been one of the hardest things to deal with. “
HOMEOWNERS FACE MORTGAGE CHARGES
It’s not just the tenants who feel the impact – landlords are struggling to make ends meet, especially if their tenants have fallen behind on their payments.
“This affects both landlords and tenants,” said real estate attorney Jerron Kelley, who represents landlords in eviction cases.
He said that while the tenants had a few months’ reprieve, the owners were still hooked on mortgage and insurance payments, property taxes and repair costs for their units.
“I think we are seeing a growing crisis,” Kelley said. “We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to foreclosures.”
The problem appears to be widespread. According to a US Census survey, 1 in 3 US adults say they are likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the coming months.