Renters are getting evicted and landlords, many of who are small business owners, are suffering from nonpayments. It’s time for Florida to step it up by educating renters on how to access pandemic-related federal funds.

Florida eviction prevention funds have been slow to reach Florida renters experiencing pandemic-related hardships. The state received $871 million, and 32 local governments throughout the state received another $570 million. Yet, Florida paid out just $100,000 through the end of May, while local governments distributed $62.2 million, according to a report. June and July numbers weren’t included in the Treasury Department report, and officials expect continued growth in rental aid programs.

But more effort needs to be put into this growing challenge. Nationwide, about 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute. And as of early July, about 3.6 million people throughout the country said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Nationwide, federal money has been getting out to landlords very slowly — and Florida has been even further behind, with only about 2% of its money distributed, according to recent reports.

Carrie Davis, president and CEO of Jacksonville-based Wealth Watchers Inc., agrees that more effort needs to be focused on educating the public about resources. But she says, that’s only part of the challenge.

“The way it works is the tenant drives the process, but the checks go to landlords,” said Davis who runs a nonprofit HUD-certified Housing Counseling and Community Development organization.

“We need to be able to get the funds out, and we don’t need to add additional layers to it. The U.S. Department of Treasury gave us broad parameters on how these funds could be spent, but on a local level when we add additional layers and rules it causes a delay in getting funds out,” Davis said. “You spend down those dollars at a slower pace because you minimize the people you can help.”

Eviction moratoriums put in place last year were meant to help curb the pandemic’s spread expired. A new moratorium was issued on Aug. 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, targeting places like Florida, with high transmission of the disease. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down that moratorium more than likely means pandemic protections for renters are over without Congress stepping up with new legislation to help them.

More effort needs to be made to get the word out to renters about what it takes to qualify for help. Landlords should be paid what they’re owed, but according to various media reports, too often people could have been spared eviction or at least bought more time if they knew how to navigate the process to get help.

One of the primary goals of the new moratorium is to give state and local governments more time to distribute billions in rental assistance money they’re receiving from the feds.

Resources are available for both landlords and tenants facing eviction for non-payment. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an online tool to find out more about rental assistance programs in our area. And any Florida resident can apply for rental assistance through the Our Florida program at http://www.OurFlorida.com.

— Florida Times-Union