(POLK COUNTY, Fla.) - Even as the pandemic subsides, tens of thousands of renters across Florida remain cost-burdened, only a paycheck away from eviction and even homelessness. So, Polk County officials, in partnership with Florida Rural Legal Services, have rolled out another wave of COVID-related emergency rent and utility assistance, a program that started during the pandemic but now remains a demand.
It’s one of several pandemic-era initiatives meant to help renters, but many of those programs have already ended. Meanwhile, the cost of housing for many in Polk County remains high.
Even worse, there’s little indication that rents will drop down substantially, meaning renters will continue to struggle.
"FRLS is proud of our partnership with Polk County and this funding that will offer critical rental and utility assistance to Polk County residents impacted by Covid,” said Jaffe Pickett, chief executive officer and executive director of FRLS. “We will ensure that Polk County residents have access to funding that would allow them to maintain basic needs like housing and utilities."
A Polk County resident can now qualify for financial help with payments of up to 12 months of delinquent rent and utilities payments.
Florida Rural Legal Services, in partnership with Polk County, is assisting Polk County residents with payments of up to 12 months of delinquent rent and utilities payments and up to 3 months of future rents for qualified residents, totaling no more than $12,000.
This emergency rental assistance program will be accepting applications at an in-person intake event on Wednesday, April 5 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at the Dream Center of Lakeland, located at 635 West 5th Street.
FRLS' Outreach Director Sueanna Jones said, “The ultimate goal of this program is to stabilize families and make sure they are not on the street."
While the overall growth of rents has started to slow, rents are still significantly higher than they were a year ago. The typical rent in Central Florida is about $2,827, a 16 percent increase from the year before.
Pictured (left to right) Todd Bond, Deputy Polk County Manager, of Supportive Services and Human Services; Jaffe Pickett, Esq., Executive Director/CEO of Florida Rural Legal Services; Chrystal Thornton, Esq., FRLS Board of Directors Vice-President; and Joshua Brown, Esq., FRLS Board of Directors President
The emergency rental and utility assistance program is available to Polk County residents, who are behind in rental and/or utilities payment and meet income thresholds, that have experienced an income loss due to COVID19-related issues.
Some examples of COVID19-related issues are:
- Reduced hours due to fewer sales or customers because of COVID
- Reduced paycheck or loss of employment due to taking care of a loved one or child who had COVID
- COVID restrictions caused loss of income
- Fixed income households that have increased expenses due to purchasing items/ or seeking additional health care to recover from COVID
- Long-COVID issues that have caused a loss of income
- Increase in financial responsibility due to COVID
- Took a lower paying job due to COVID
The program is designed to pay directly to landlords, property management and utility companies on behalf of qualifying Polk County residents.
Documents Needed to Apply for Assistance:
- Florida Driver's License for applicant and co-applicant
- Documented income hardship (qualify for unemployment benefits or significant reduction income or increase in expenses due to COVID-19)
- Delinquent statement for rent and utilities
- Current lease or rental statement in applicant’s/co-applicant’s name
- Most recent paystub, unemployment letter, or 2021 Tax Returns
- W-9 form from your landlord or property manager
APPLY FOR HELP:
Click here to apply for the emergency rental and utility assistance program, which is available to Polk County residents, who are behind in rental and/or utility payment and meet income thresholds, that have experienced an income loss due to COVID19-related issues.
You can also call (863) 904-4800 from Monday -Friday 8:30 a.m.- 5:00 p.m.