ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – About $ 99 million in unspent rental assistance to help Floridians living in affordable housing has been returned to the state after the agency overseeing the program struggled to shell out the money.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which was established by the Florida legislature to help develop and support affordable housing, received $ 120 million in federal rent assistance funding last year as part of the CARES law. Florida used the money to create a coronavirus relief fund, intended to help tenants catch up on rent who live on properties that FHFC finances and have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic.
Taylore Maxey, press secretary for the non-profit organization, said she has distributed around $ 13.2 million to help tenants in 373 multi-family developments across the state. In total, FHFC said it received 786 requests for assistance but only 521 were approved. And about $ 99 million has been returned to the Department of Economic Opportunity to be reallocated to other pandemic programs.
“There’s no way to water it down: this strategy has been underused,” said Trey Price, executive director of the FHFC. “But all that considered, I think we did a good job with the time constraints we were facing and the resources given to us.”
Nonprofits that have tried to help affordable housing residents take advantage of rent assistance and push back eviction notices, including the Miami Workers Center and the Community Justice Project, said the problem is that some landlords will not participate in rent relief programs because of the requirements. they place on the owners.
To participate in the FHFC program, for example, landlords had to waive late fees and agree not to increase the rent until January 2021, while also pledging not to turn down lease renewals for late tenants. rent or report them to the credit bureaus. They also had to agree not to initiate new eviction requests and to suspend ongoing evictions for a period of time.
However, Price said he believed the biggest obstacle to disbursing the funds was that tenants had to pay 30% of their household income in rent to be eligible, a prerequisite which was later removed.
He said a separate program run by the non-profit organization, in which FHFC contracted with 119 local government housing offices to distribute rent assistance, was much more successful. According to figures provided by the association, $ 98.3 million in rent assistance and $ 18.1 million in mortgage relief were spent as part of this strategy.
Price said FHFC returned the unspent money before the deadline set by the CARES Act, which required all funding to be used by December 31, 2020 or returned to the federal government. Former President Trump ultimately extended that until the end of 2021 when he unexpectedly signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December.
He waited to sign the $ 900 billion COVID relief plan until December 27, just days before many provisions of the CARES Act expired, including federal unemployment and the paycheck protection program. . The moratorium on deportations from the country was also about to end.
Price said the uncertainty over whether or not Trump would sign an extension put the Florida Housing Finance Corporation in a difficult position.
“There was a real question of whether President Trump was going to sign or veto this bill,” Price said. “At this point, we needed to start moving (the unspent money) to the state of Florida. You don’t just snap your fingers and move $ 99 million. There was a bit of a rush. “
Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the decision was made to “pull out” the unused money because this bill awaiting Trump’s signature contained $ 25 billion in aid to the government. dedicated rental, including $ 1.4 billion for Florida. Pushaw said the money returned by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation had been reallocated “to support the state’s ongoing pandemic response spending,” but couldn’t say exactly what it was being used for.
But it’s unclear why the governor’s office was confident he would receive this money, given Trump’s reluctance to sign the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. Pushaw did not immediately respond when asked for further details.
In a video posted to Twitter, Trump at the time called the bill a “disgrace” and called on lawmakers to “get rid of unnecessary and unnecessary pieces of this legislation and send me an appropriate bill.” , referring to the provisions of the 5,593 -page legislation allocating money to foreign aid, environmental projects and the arts and humanities.
“It’s called the COVID Relief Bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said, toppling lawmakers and even some of his own aides, who were in tense negotiations over the package. for months. Trump was also unhappy that the bill only included $ 600 stimulus payments for Americans and said he wanted to issue checks for $ 2,000.
However, Capitol Hill residents were quick to point out that some of the unrelated projects that received funding were programs that Trump included in his 2021 fiscal budget. His critics also ignored that Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s secretary of the Treasury, was the one who negotiated the figure of $ 600.