HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County leaders met Thursday to discuss the coronavirus, efforts to slow its spread and actions to protect residents and small business owners in its economic wake. Among the suggestions are a freeze against rent increases for Florida tenants and to protect small business owners from eviction.
EPG URGES PROTECTION FROM EVICTION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
In a letter, the chairman of the Emergency Policy Group, Les Miller, urges Governor Ron DeSantis to pass additional executive orders to help the state's small business owners.
The governor issued an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures for 45 days, but EPG members are concerned this does not cover commercial leases.
Commissioner Sandra Murman had reported she'd received complaints of landlords trying to evict businesses. Small businesses make up 83% of the county's economy. In the letter, EPG members ask the governor to expand protection to commercial leases and prevent business owners from facing eviction.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said while it's important to protect small businesses, thankfully, the local impact when it comes to evictions has been low. Chronister said of the current 181 pending evictions only one of them is a small business.
A POTENTIAL FREEZE AGAINST RISING RENT
There's also a problem with rent suddenly going up in the county, according to the letter.
Renters in apartment complexes complained to EPG members that their management companies had notified them of rent increases effective this month. Members are asking the governor for a statewide freeze on rental rates as a potential fix.
"Raising rents with little to no warning in the midst of a worldwide emergency pandemic is in our opinion unconscionable," states Miller in the letter, "These actions may be construed as price gouging, and could be reported to Florida's Attorney General for investigation."
The EPG asks DeSantis to pass another executive order, nonetheless, to prevent rent upcharges across the board until economic conditions improve.
FREE INTERNET FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS WITH A CAVEAT
The EPG discussed measures to connect more students and teachers to the internet. In a flyer, Charter Spectrum commits to provide free internet up to 100 Mbps to new subscribers in a household with teachers, K-12 or college students.
The flyer indicates the service started Monday, March 16 and will last for 60 days until May 15. The service includes free self-installation kits, and no data caps or hidden fees. A Spectrum Internet Assist Service will be available to qualified low-income families for free.
In the small print, you are not eligible for the offer if you already have an active Spectrum account or had any outstanding bills on old accounts. EPG Chair Les Miller says he will speak with the communications giant about possibly waiving that requirement in response to low-income families who are now barred from the free service.
Professional installation is extra, and you will be charged the standard rate after the free period ends.
In a memo from the county's Chief Information and Innovation Administrator, Ramin Kouzehkanani, it is noted that there are few areas in Hillsborough County, specifically in the southern and eastern parts, in which Charter does not offer broadband service "and as such families who reside in those areas cannot benefit from this offer."
The memo states the Hillsborough County IT Department will help those families in a roll-out of Wi-Fi hotspots. Families can check on the availability of this service by looking up their home address at www.spectrum.com/wifi-hotspots
BIRD ARGUES THEIR BUSINESS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ESSENTIAL
Only two of four e-scooter companies are operating in Tampa.
In a letter to the EPG, major dockless scooter company, Bird, states it plans to work with the city to "maintain a small fleet to continue providing the community's essential workers with a personal transportation option that allows riders to practice social distancing and reduce the risk of contagion."
The letter details how, under the U.S Department of Homeland Security, personal and commercial transportation services and "vehicle rental services" are considered essential. Bird insists their e-scooters fall into the latter category.
The county administrator acknowledged e-scooter companies are considered essential. The e-scooter giant has implemented extra cleaning measures in the wake of the coronavirus. In the letter, Bird states they've increased the daily frequency in which they clean and sanitize the scooters.
They've also increased the frequency of deep-cleaning, or "Bird Baths" that take place in local service centers. Bird is offering extra gloves and hand sanitizer for all their staff.
"We are fully focused on the health and safety of the communities in which we live, and offer our service. While we have drawn down our fleet (we are glad to see people staying home if they can!) to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, we also recognize that many rely on us for income and as a safe way to get around while maintaining appropriate social distance" wrote Servando Esparza of Bird in the letter.
The eight members of the EPG are Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, School Board chairwoman Melissa Snively, Sheriff Chad Chronister, Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller, Sandra Murman and Kimberly Overman, Temple Terrace Vice Mayor Andy Ross and Plant City Mayor Rick Lott.