$ 99 million returned in Floridaians rental assistance

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ORLANDO, Florida (AP)

Approximately $ 99 million in unspent rental subsidy designed to help Florida residents find affordable housing was returned to the state after the agency overseeing the program struggled to pay out the money.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation, established by Florida lawmakers to help develop and support affordable housing, received federal funding of $ 120 million for rental support under the CARES Act last year. Florida used the money to set up a coronavirus relief fund to help catch up rent to tenants who live in FHFC-funded properties and who have lost jobs or incomes due to the pandemic.

Taylore Maxey, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said she spent about $ 13.2 million helping tenants in 373 apartment buildings across the state. In total, FHFC said it had received 786 requests for assistance, but only 521 were approved. And about $ 99 million was returned to the Department of Economic Opportunity to be used for other pandemic response programs.

“There’s no way to gloss it over: this strategy has been underutilized,” said Trey Price, executive director of the FHFC. “But with all that, I think we did a good job with the time pressure and the resources that were available to us.”

Nonprofits that have attempted to help affordable housing residents get rent assistance and fend off eviction notices, including the Miami Workers Center and the Community Justice Project, said the problem is that some landlords are not in tenant relief programs because of the requirements participate they bet on property owners.

In order to participate in the FHFC program, for example, landlords had to waive interest on arrears and undertake not to increase rent until January 2021, but also to undertake not to refuse rent arrears or to report them to credit agencies. They also had to agree not to file any new evictions and to suspend all pending evictions for a period of time.

However, Price said the biggest barrier to the disbursement of the funds was that tenants had to pay 30% of their household income for rent to be eligible, a requirement that was later removed.

He said a separate program run by the nonprofit that FHFC had contracted with 119 local government housing agencies to distribute rental subsidies had been much more successful. According to the nonprofit, the strategy spent $ 98.3 million on rental subsidies and $ 18.1 million on mortgage relief.

Price said FHFC returned the unspent money ahead of a deadline set in the CARES Act, which requires all funds to be used or returned to the federal government by December 31, 2020. Former President Trump finally extended this to the end of 2021 when he unexpectedly signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December.

He waited until December 27 to sign the $ 900 billion COVID relief package, just days before many provisions of the CARES Act expired, including federal unemployment and the paycheck protection program. The country’s moratorium on eviction was also nearing its end.

Price said uncertainty about whether or not Trump would sign an extension puts Florida Housing Finance Corporation in a difficult position.

“It was a real question whether then-President Trump would sign or veto this bill,” Price said. “At that point, we had to move (the unspent money) back to the state of Florida. You don’t just snap your fingers and move $ 99 million. There was quite a shortage of time. “

Christina Pushaw, spokeswoman for Governor Ron DeSantis, said the decision was made to “withdraw” the unused money because that bill, awaiting Trump’s signature, contained $ 25 billion in earmarked rental aid, including $ 1.4 billion Dollars for Florida. Pushaw said the money returned by Florida Housing Finance Corporation was being repurposed “to support the state’s ongoing spending on the pandemic response,” but could not say exactly what it was used for.

However, it is unclear why the governor’s office was confident of receiving this money as Trump was reluctant to sign the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Pushaw did not respond immediately when asked for more details.

In a video posted on Twitter, Trump called the bill “a shame” at the time and called on lawmakers to “remove the wasteful and unnecessary elements from this bill and send me an appropriate bill,” referring to the provisions of 5.593 – Page Legislation on the allocation of funds for development aid, environmental projects and the arts and humanities.

“It’s called the COVID Relief Act, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said, baffling lawmakers and even some of his own staff who had been 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 write $ 2,000 checks.

However, people on Capitol Hill were quick to point out that some of the independent projects that were funded were programs that Trump had included in his 2021 household budget. His criticism also ignored that Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, was the one who negotiated the $ 600 figure.

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