Trouble paying rent or mortgage due to coronavirus crisis? Collier program aims to help
With the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak still rippling across Florida and the rest of the country, some Collier County residents could soon get help paying their rent or mortgage.
County officials last week announced a $1.4 million rental and mortgage assistance program, funded through a combination of state and federal dollars and to be administered with the help of the United Way of Collier County and the Keys.
“We were able to take advantage of some new grant money that came straight from Congress to address the COVID crisis and also we were able to redirect some of our existing funding that we already had in-house to kind of throw some help at people much faster than usual,” said Cormac Giblin, the county’s housing and grant development manager.
The nonprofit United Way has been building the online application for the program and hopes to have it completed within the next week, meaning it could be up and running as early as Friday or as late as May 15.
The assistance program is designed for renters and homeowners who meet certain income restrictions and would make rent and mortgage payments, including back-payments as far back as March, directly to the landlord or bank.
The roughly $636,000 in federal funds is available for rental assistance only and only to households that currently make 50% or less of the area median income, or AMI. The $800,000 in state funding can be used either for rent or mortgage payments and is available to households that make up to 120% of the AMI.
That means the most a single person can currently earn to qualify for the funding is less than $69,240 a year, Giblin said. For a household of four the upper limit to qualify is $98,760.
The income levels are based on what a person or household currently makes, not before the crisis, he said.
“Probably two-thirds of the overall funding needs to be geared towards those at the lower end of the income spectrum,” Giblin said.
A wait list for people who want to be notified when the application process opens already has roughly 2,800 people on it, though some may be duplicates.
With limited funds available, not all will be able to receive assistance from the program, which will operate on a first-come, -completed and -eligible basis, said Spencer Smith, vice president of programs for the United Way of Collier and the Keys.
To be able to help a large number of people while at the same time bringing them current with their rent or mortgage payments so they don’t face eviction, Smith said the nonprofit is taking the approach to try to do a maximum of three months of financial assistance for any client going through the system.
That means if the average rent is $1,500, the program could potentially help between 300 and 400 households, he said.
“We want to try to get as many families as we can financially stable again, so that, you know, when they do regain employment or get their hours back that they aren’t behind, you know, three months rent or two months’ rent,” Smith said. “It’s going to be more manageable for them.”
The wait list is probably going to be a lot of people who have never navigated social services before, he said.
“And it’s going to be a huge strain on everybody,” Smith said. “So we’re trying to make sure that, you know, as many families as we can are not going to be completely inundating every other social service that’s going to be out there.”
The application process will play out largely electronically at collierhelp.com where users will find a clear distinction on how to apply for the COVID-19 rental and mortgage assistance once it opens up.
The website is currently live but only has applications for services being provided by the Salvation Army for programs unrelated to the county grants, Smith said.
Once the program goes live, renters, Giblin said, will upload a copy of their lease and income verification documents. Homeowners would provide mortgage documents.
Depending on what funding stream applicants qualify for they are routed to the appropriate case managers, Smith said.
Although the funding for the program is currently limited, county officials expect to see more aid money in the future.
Since the program was announced, Giblin said, the state has released more disaster funding and Collier received somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. County officials also expect additional stimulus packages from the federal government.
“We anticipate more money coming down,” Giblin said.
The United Way was chosen as a partner for the program, he said, because the organization already has a “pretty sophisticated infrastructure” in terms of technical hardware and “boots on the ground” to get the word out and help get people into the program.
“Much more so than the county has,” he said.
To get on the notification waiting list, residents can visit unitedwayofcolliercounty.org. To be connected with a social service residents in Collier can dial 211.