DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Volusia County Council is expected on Tuesday to recommend changes to its federally funded emergency rental assistance program (ERAP), following a vote held by council members earlier this month.
What You Need To Know
- The Volusia County Council will recommend changes to its ERA program
- They will include guidelines for how long residents can collect assistance payments
- The Council is not expected to recommend paying tenants directly
Currently, the county’s program remains closed to new applicants while staff process existing applications. The last time the application portal opened in July, it reached maximum capacity and closed in three hours. As of Sept. 20, Volusia had paid out or committed a total of $12.7 million, less than half of the nearly $30 million the county has received for emergency rental assistance since December.
Those payments could get out faster — if the county had enough staffing to meet the program’s high demand, said Community Services Director Dona Butler at a Sept. 7 council meeting. She said each county staff member is responsible for processing at least 80 applications.
“They are working as fast and furiously as they can,” Butler said, adding that the county has experienced high turnover of the temporary positions created to help process applications and is “constantly rehiring” people.
At the Sept. 7 meeting, council members voted to reduce the maximum length of time Volusia County residents can receive ERA payments from 12 months, down to six. However, after that vote, county staff said they would review federal guidelines for the funding before presenting final recommendations Tuesday, according to county spokesperson Pat Kuehn.
The Department of Treasury’s rules differ for the two separate batches of ERAP funding allocated to states and localities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For ERA1, the first batch of funds approved by Congress in late December, programs must first attempt to contact the landlords of struggling renters and get them to agree to accept payment. After attempting landlord outreach a designated number of times, programs may — if they choose — offer payment directly to eligible tenants. However, programs are not required to do so, and so far, Volusia’s program hasn’t, according to county staff.
For ERA2, the second batch of ERA funds allocated via the American Rescue Plan, programs are not required to attempt landlord outreach at all before offering payments directly to tenants who are deemed eligible for assistance under the program. But based on conversations at that council meeting held earlier this month, it doesn’t sound like the county will be changing its protocol.
“I’m really not comfortable making payments [directly] to the tenants,” Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower said. “If the landlord does not want to be part of this program, then I think that excludes that property.”
Across the county and here in Central Florida, many tenants have been accepted for ERA — but haven’t received it — because their landlords refused to participate in the program. In one case earlier this year, an Orange County renter was approved for $10,000 in assistance — the county’s max limit per household at the time g— but didn’t get it, because he was $12,000 behind in rent, and his landlords didn’t want to accept only part of the balance. Orange County has since expanded its program’s limit to $20,000 per household.
On Tuesday, the Volusia County Council is expected to recommend capping ERA payments at a maximum of 12 total months of assistance per household, made up of nine months in back rent and up to three months in future rent. Additionally, households that are immediately facing an eviction will be eligible for up to $7,000 from the following services:
- Rent or rental bonds (paid to court to avoid an eviction order)
- Hotel costs — not to exceed $1,500 a month for a maximum of three months
- Application or screening fees — not to exceed $600 total
- Rental security deposits — not to exceed two months of rental assistance
- Landlord incentive — not to exceed one month of rental assistance
Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.