Residents evicted while waiting for rent assistance from OUR Florida

CLEARWATER, Fla .– Residential evictions continue to increase in Tampa Bay, but some of these evictions are occurring as residents wait for emergency rental assistance from programs like OUR Florida.

I wait day in and day out, ”Clearwater District resident Sarah Pasko told ABC Action News. Pasko is a dental hygienist who also cares for his 74-year-old mother, Pamela Balcom.

“She’s waiting for the door to knock, she thinks the doors are knocking because there’s a sheriff coming to kick us out,” Pasko said.

“Anxiety is killing me,” Balcom added. She showed us the medicine box that she now keeps by her bed: “Just in case we need to go,” she said.

When the delta variant of COVID-19 surged this summer, Pasko said patients stopped coming to the office and his hours were reduced. She started making and selling jewelry, but it wasn’t enough.

Looking at the bills, she knew September’s rent was going to be tough, so she applied for emergency rent assistance from Pinellas County and the State Department of Children and Families, OUR Florida. She didn’t know that you could only apply to one.

As Pinellas County was going to send me a check, they saw OUR Florida was sending me a check, so Pinellas County canceled it, ”Pasko explained. She tried to contact OUR Florida for a timeline, but said she couldn’t reach anyone.

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Even though the online portal said her application was approved, she had to ask her family to help pay the September rent.

On October 3, she received her first eviction notice.

I kept telling them, ‘The money is coming. It’s going to be here soon, it’s going to be here soon, ”Pasko said.

It was then that she turned to the Community Law Program, a non-profit organization working with tenants and landlords in Pinellas County. Lawyer Mercy Roberg was able to stop Pasko’s deportation in court.

We were able to get a screenshot showing that the check had been paid. And that came through a contact I had in Pinellas County that was able to kind of raise him, ”said Roberg.

Roberg said the date in the screenshot showed a check sent out on October 11, but by the end of November the check still hadn’t arrived.

It’s been over a month and a half and every time I contact OUR Florida and the client contacts me to find out, you know, can we get a check number? Can we know if it was cashed? Can it be reissued? These are all questions that we asked, we get the solution, ”explained Roberg.

The day before Thanksgiving, Pasko contacted someone at DCF on the phone who told him the check was now void and another check would be sent.

When she looks at his gate now, he says, “Help will be provided directly to your landlord. Please allow up to two weeks for this payment to be processed. She read this to ABC Action News on November 23.

“I’m back to work, but I can’t get over it,” said Pasko. “It’s already so late that there’s no way I can get ahead.”

Roberg says 90% of his clients are back to work, but simply cannot catch up with the rising cost of living in Pinellas County.

She currently has 15 clients awaiting thousands of dollars from OUR Florida.

My team is trying to contact OUR Florida reps, we are not getting any email response, ”exclaimed Roberg,“ We ​​have sent clients to in-person offices who would be available for in-person assistance, and our clients tell us. Whether they’re sent from Largo’s office to the Tampa office or the Tampa office, they’re told to call, you know, the online help number. So it’s sort of a circle in which our clients continue to evolve.

ABC Action News has emailed DCF’s communications office since requesting updated numbers on OUR Florida funding since November 1.

On 1, 2 and 11, the deputy director of communications replied that they were working on it.

On the 29th, we asked again, specifically about Pasko’s situation and Roberg’s concerns. The deputy director replied, “I’m working on this and will get back to you when I have answers.” “

Unfortunately for Pasko, the funds can arrive too late. She received her second eviction notice on Thanksgiving week.

“I packed everything. If we have to go, we have to go, ”she said. “Where I’m going to go, I don’t know… I’m counting on them for my life right now.” “

The ABC Action News I-Team did an article on OUR Florida in August, finding that only 3% of their rent assistance funds went to residents.

The agency told us in an email, “DCF has received $ 871 million under the ERA program to administer statewide. OUR Florida has paid $ 23.2 million to 5,403 households.”

At the very least, the Community law program calls for better communication.

If OUR Florida could get in touch with us with legal aid, with the communities to say this is the person to call, here are the five people who will answer your questions. Here is the person who will send you a screenshot with the number of the check and the date it was dispersed… that would be my request, ”said Roberg.

If you live in Pinellas County and need help with a possible eviction, click here to connect with the Community Law program.

If you live in other parts of Tampa Bay, click here to connect with Bay Area Legal Services.

If you want to support Pasko jewelry business, Click here.


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