County offering assistance to renters effected by COVID-19 pandemic

Program to provide as much as three months relief for rent, utilities

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 3/24/21

CLAY COUNTY – The county’s emergency rental assistance applications now are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so signing it’s encouraging residents to sign up a soon as …

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County offering assistance to renters effected by COVID-19 pandemic

Program to provide as much as three months relief for rent, utilities

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – The county’s emergency rental assistance applications now are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so signing it’s encouraging residents to sign up a soon as possible.

Businesses have closed, jobs have been lost and rent has gone past due to the year-long COVID-19 pandemic. Individual financial assistance from the federal government has arrived multiple times and the county has doled out millions in business assistance.

Now it’s time for renters to get help.

“We’re funding three months of past-due rent in the first wave,” Clay County rental assistance lead Victoria Hapner said.

Hapner said the assistance is covering more than just past-due rent. It’s also covering up to three months of utilities, including internet, water and electricity. With both rent and utilities, there must be proof that payments are past-due. Simple word-of-mouth won’t do, Hapner said. Past due bills or emails demanding payment will be required.

The money will be sent directly to the landlords in most cases, Hapner said. It’s for that reason that Hapner and the county recommend that the landlords be heavily involved in the application process.

“I want to help my renters,” one property manager who asked to remain anonymous said. “On a business level, past-due payments affect me so it helps that those bills are going to get paid, but I know these people personally. Many I’d consider family. I’m helping because I want to help them get back on track with everything.”

The property manager said not everyone was available to attend one of the three county meetings held last week. She attended one of them with the intent to learn as much as they could and spread the word to their renters. It’s just the right thing to do, they said.

Hapner said there might be some rare instances where the landlord refuses to get involved. In those instances, the process will take a little longer, but it’s still possible to get assistance.

It’s not necessary to apply for both rental assistance and utility assistance. These are two different types of assistance. It’s possible, however, to apply for both if both are needed. Alongside the past-due notices, applicants must provide a valid state identification for each adult in the house, and the address of the house must match the address on the ID, a current lease agreement comprised of all required pages, income verification such as a 2020 tax return, W2, or at least three months of paystubs for all household members over the age of 18, and proof of all children in the house.

Hapner said a 2020 tax return is the most effective and fastest method of income certification and encourages those with a 2020 tax return to use that as verification. Applicants will also need documentation of financial hardship related to COVID-19, such as a job loss letter, proof of unemployment or even reduced hours at work, as well as a landlord-tenant permission form if you’re a landlord applying on behalf of a tenant. If you’re a tenant, you’ll need a landlord verification form and an IRS W9 form filled out by the landlord.

As far as basic qualifications go, you must reside in Clay County, be responsible for rent in your Clay County residency, be the person in the house to have experienced COVID-19-related hardship and have an annual household income for 2020 that’s less than 80% of the area median income.

Applicants are free to apply for the full three months of rental and utility assistance, but they must have three months of past-due proof. If an applicant only needs one or two months of assistance, they must only show one or two months of past-due proof, Hapner said.

To apply, residents must visit www.claycountygov.com/government/cares-act/emergency-rental-assistance. The application can be filed completely online and for those without internet, all Clay County libraries are aware of the assistance and can direct you to the library computers to file the application. Hapner encourages people to call (904) 529-4256 for information and help with the application. The application will remain open for 30 days.

Hapner said additional assistance with even more months of coverage could open up after those three months. If you receive the first round of assistance, it’s still possible to receive assistance in additional rounds so it’s recommended to apply now if needed.

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