SPECIAL TO THE DAYTONA TIMES
Volusia County is in line for more than $16 million in federal aid to help local residents struggling to pay their rent due to the financial fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the County Council formally blessed the new coronavirus aid initiative by giving approval to the county’s Community Services staff to launch the grant program once the money is received.
Last year, the county allocated $27.5 million of its federal coronavirus relief funds for rent and mortgage assistance to Volusia County residents. So far, a total of 7,974 applications for assistance have been approved.
Although requests are still being processed, the deadline to apply expired on Dec. 30. However, the new COVID-19 stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last month included $25 billion for emergency rental assistance. Volusia County has been told that its share will be $16.7 million.
While approving the program Tuesday, the council also authorized the hiring of up to 15 temporary county employees to help manage the program and process the rental assistance applications. The positions – a program manager, two supervisors, nine case workers, two accounting specialists and one staff assistant – will be paid for out of the grant funds and will be vacated when the program ends.
The program will target people earning at or below 80% of the area median income, or AMI, with preference given to those at 50% or below the AMI. To qualify for assistance, one or more members of a household must have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due either directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak.
Utilities help too
Additionally, one or more people in the household must be able to demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability. Landlords will be able to apply on behalf of their tenants who meet the eligibility requirements as long as the tenant co-signs the application.
Community Services Director Dona Butler told council members that underemployment can be a critical challenge for many.
“That can make a big difference,” said Butler. “You might not have lost your job entirely, but you may have had your hours cut in half or you relocated to another job that just doesn’t pay you what you were being paid before.”
In addition to rent assistance, the program also will provide financial help for utilities and home energy costs or other expenses related to housing. Households will be able to receive up to a year of assistance but must be re-certified every three months to continue receiving assistance.
In addition to the grant funds, case workers also will be trained to refer clients to other community resources for which they might qualify.
The county hopes to have the program up and running on March 1. The public will be notified how and where to apply and the required documentation once the program is ready to accept applications. The county plans to produce a training video to teach clients how to submit an online application.
“It’s going to be challenging, because there’s going to be a lot of folks that want assistance,” said Butler.