ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to pass an eviction diversion program to help county residents who are at imminent risk of being evicted due to the COVID-19 crisis.

An application portal will open on August 25.

What You Need To Know

  • Orange County eviction diversion program funded by CARES Act

  • Program aims to help residents at risk of eviction due to pandemic

  • Visit Orange County's website for info on how to apply

The program will use $20 million of CARES Act funding to assist tenants who are at least two months behind on their rent. Priority will be granted to families and residents ages 65 and over.

A Family In Need

Sarah Cash is one mom who could potentially benefit from the new eviction diversion program. Last week, she received a 30-day eviction warning, to pay the rent she owes for the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband and two young children, ages 4 and 9.

When she saw the notice, Cash described the feeling as a “smack in the face.” 

“I didn't cause this,” Cash said. “I could understand if I wasn't paying them anything, if I didn't have a job. But it's not like I’m not even trying.”

Laid off from her job as a Starbucks barista at Universal’s Surfside Inn & Suites resort in early March because of the pandemic, Cash said she has still not received any federal unemployment assistance for the three months she was out of work. She estimated she’s missing $4,800. 

“That’s rent money,” Cash said. “When I was off work for three months, the bills didn't stop.”

The amount of federal assistance she’s missing is almost enough to cover the unpaid rent. Cash and her husband Michael – who also lost his job due to COVID-19, and has not been brought back – have paid what they can. But they’re still several months behind. 

“I have been paying what I can. But at the same time, I still have to feed my children,” Cash said. “My son is now doing school from home, so I have to provide those meals.”

Cash’s 9-year-old son Hayden is on the autism spectrum, and online school has been tough for him because of the lack of in-person socialization. Cash credits his “amazing” teacher at Dr. Phillips Elementary School with helping to make the transition much easier.

Still, it’s been a challenge – and Cash doesn’t want Hayden to have to worry about anything else. Like losing his home.

“This is happening to too many people,” Cash said. “These people are families, they have kids. These kids, they’re the future. We need to take care of them.”

Funds Go Directly to Landlord

Eligible applicants will receive up to $4,000 in past-due rent, paid directly to the landlord. Landlords must agree to waive the remaining amount that is due. Both tenant and landlord must agree to participate in the program and sign a contract, which the Orange County Bar Association will help to develop.

“The clock is ticking,” said Roseann Harrington, chief of staff for Orange County. “We need to intervene as quickly as possible and work with the landlord and tenant, in order to ensure that this individual or these families do not end up homeless.”

The program will prioritize tenants who fall into the very low-income category, with around 55 percent of all funding being earmarked for those residents, Harrington said.

Tenants must be able to show documented proof that they’ve been impacted by COVID-19. They must also have already received an eviction notice, a court referral, or a letter from their landlord to participate in the program.

Tenants who are pre-screened and determined to not be eligible for the program will be redirected to other social services, such as those provided by the United Way of Central Florida.

More information on eligibility and the documents required to apply can be found at ocfl.net/OrangeCares.

How the Program Works

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.