ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — On August 24, the day before Orange County’s eviction diversion program opened for applications, Michael Cash received an email from his apartment complex. “You Have Options!” the subject line read.

What You Need To Know

  • Michael Cash received email from apartment complex about eviction diversion program

  • The Cash family applied for the program the next day

  • The complex later informed the couple that it was not participating in the program

  • The Cash family has received an evictions summons from the court

The email inquired about his past-due rent —  a little more than $5,000 —  and mentioned the eviction diversion program as a resource Cash and his family might be able to use. 

Cash’s wife, Sarah, said she applied for the program the very next day —  the day the portal opened. She applied from back home in West Virginia, where she had traveled to make arrangements for her father, who had just passed away. 

After a couple weeks of not hearing any word back, Sarah Cash reached out to the management team at their apartment complex, Affinity at Millenia, on Sept. 11.

A community manager replied that day, informing Sarah that the complex had “elected not to participate in Orange County’s voluntary COVID-19 Eviction Diversion program." No reason was given.

When Sarah tried to respond to the email, she received a message back, saying her response was undeliverable. She said she believes the apartment complex blocked her address.

On Wednesday, Cash received an eviction summons from the court.

“At this point, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sarah said. “The uncertainty is very scary.”

Sarah Cash had previously been furloughed for three months from her job at a Universal Studios resort because of COVID-19. Her husband also lost his job permanently, and they said Sarah did not receive most of the federal unemployment she’s owed. The income they lost meant they weren’t able to pay rent on time.

Now Sarah’s back at work, and her husband has an interview he is hopeful will land him a job. But without the help of the eviction diversion program —  which would provide their landlord with up to $4,000 in unpaid rent —  they don’t think there is any way they’ll be able to catch up.

“It literally would have been one rent payment. One rent payment that they would have let drop off,” she said. “But they chose not to help.”

No response was received to multiple attempts to inquire with Affinity at Millenia about its choice not to participate in the eviction diversion program, as well as any other alternative assistance programs in which the company may be participating.

Despite the state and federal eviction moratoriums currently in place, industry experts warn of a looming housing crisis if these mandates are not accompanied by direct financial assistance for renters or landlords.

Apartment Association of Greater Orlando Chief Executive Officer Chip Tatum said that while nationally rent collection rates are slightly off, the situation is not as dire as some may think.

“Probably the biggest threat is the perception of how the market is doing and what renters are doing,” he said. “The reality is that while it certainly is a little bit higher delinquency than normal, there's not this tidal wave of delinquency, or looming evictions, or things like that that we so frequently hear about.”

Tatum referenced a recent report from the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), which found slightly more than 86 percent of apartment households had paid their rent as of Sept. 13. That means nearly 280,000 fewer households paid rent through this time compared to last year, according to the report.

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.