TAMPA, Fla. — An I-Team investigation revealed renters being evicted while waiting on a slice of the $870 million allocated to the DCF’s Our Florida program to help pandemic-impacted tenants behind on their rent.
Sarasota resident Shamika Jenkins says the Our Florida program failed her and her 15-year-old daughter. The mother and child wound up living in their SUV after the moratorium expired on July 31. They were evicted two-and-a-half months after applying for rental assistance from Our Florida.
The program received $871 million in February to pay landlords on behalf of pandemic impacted renters.
Jenkins says that after she lost a full-time job in 2020 she worked several part-time jobs but it wasn’t enough to cover her rent. For two weeks I-Team Investigator Jackie Callaway asked the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which oversees the Our Florida program, for payout numbers.
The agency responded in an email: "DCF received $871 million as part of the ERA program to administer statewide. OUR Florida has paid out $23.2 million to 5,403 households.”
That amounts to less than 3% of the money received.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried wants to know why it’s taking Our Florida so long to process and pay landlords before they evict renters.
“The last thing we need is for people to be evicted. Where do they go?” Fried said.
Fried is a Democratic candidate for governor and her department provides information to consumers about tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities, and also receives and reviews complaints from tenants about financial disputes with landlords.
According to court data the I-Team obtained earlier this summer, judges in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties issued over 4700 writs of possession since the start of the pandemic. A writ of possession is the final stage of the eviction process leaving tenants 48 hours to get out after they are served.
Kody Glazer with the Florida Housing Coalition says the online application process designed by federal officials isn't easy for everyone to navigate.
“You have a high number of incomplete applications which require staff at state level and local governments to have to follow up,” Glazer said.
DCF told the I-Team that, “most submitted applications that have not been approved are awaiting action by the tenant to provide additional information….to help remedy incomplete applications, Our Florida has made more than 80,000 outbound calls to help Floridians complete and upload required documents.”
After contacting Our Florida and Sarasota Social Services about Jenkins she received a $1,500 check to pay her former landlord.
“After you contacted them that's when I got a response letting me know what was prolonging my case,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said she was not notified about additional documents needed to process her claim. She also told ABC Action News that Sarasota County found space for her and her daughter in a local shelter.
Complaints about the Our Florida program can be filed by clicking here.