County receives $8.1 million grant for rental and utility relief

Alachua County has received its share of a $25 billion award from the U.S. Treasury to provide financial assistance for residents unable to pay rent and utility bills due to the COVID-19 shutdowns.

On Tuesday, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) moved to accept the payment of more than $8.1 million and discussed how to distribute it. 

The monies are specifically earmarked for the “payment of rent, rental arrears, utilities and home energy costs, and utility and home energy cost arrears on behalf of eligible households,” according to the U.S. Treasury notice. Ten percent of the fund can be used to “provide housing stability services to eligible households and cover administrative costs,” the notice also states.

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Claudia Tuck, director of community support services for the county, made the announcement to the BOCC. The award can be applied to loss of income due to COVID-19 from March 1, 2020, through March of 2021, Tuck said.

“We are in the midst of doing a needs assessment to identify highest risk [residents] in the community,” she told the BOCC.

BOCC Commissioner Anna Prizzia welcomed the funds but advised that the county “make the application as easy as possible and more difficult than they have to be.”

Similar to the CARES Act funds application process, the county will need to set a way to accept applications, and verify those applications to rule out fraudulent claims. Updates will appear on the county’s website

According to Tommy Crosby, assistant county manager for budget and fiscal services, several CARES Acts applications were passed to law enforcement for investigation of fraud.

“Federal grants come with a clawback from the U.S. Treasury,” Crosby said. “We have had to turn over applicants to law enforcement in the past.”

Representatives of the Alachua County Labor Coalition called into the meeting to inform the BOCC of the dire situation many residents are in.

Jeremiah Tattersall, chairman of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said he is aware of 91 people who have received eviction notices in the last three days.  

A lot of people are being let out of their leases, and only about 1/10th of evictions have been legal, he said.

A representative of the Alachua County Tenants’ Association said residents are reporting accruing penalty fees, landlords not renewing leases, and community members getting evicted, including single mothers with children.

They also reported that it has been taking a long period of time for CARES Act funds to reach those people at risk of becoming homeless.

The BOCC heard about Latino and elderly community members having trouble accessing the technology to apply for relief.

The BOCC and Crosby will work on determining the best way to start the application process, which may include hiring outside help to manage the project, much like when the CARES Act funds were distributed last year.

Stay tuned for more information as those decisions are communicated.

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