HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County is offering a lifeline to families struggling to pay their bills because of the coronavirus pandemic. You can once again apply for a program that could cover your rent or mortgage by up to five months.
The county is calling the Rapid Response Recovery (R3) Utility and Housing Assistance Program one of the most generous in the Sunshine State.
“The initial program was intended to be a bandaid or crisis intervention," said Audrey Ziegler, the director of the Social Services Department for Hillsborough County.
Ziegler said a bandaid wasn’t enough, as Florida enters month five of dealing with the pandemic. During phase one, the county approved over 1,600 applicants. This time around, it hopes to help out 7,000 people with the $12 million program.
“It’s going to provide relief where households are stressed, where children are home and people are facing having to home school their children. They are not sure what to do," Ziegler said.
If you are accepted, the county would pay your rent or mortgage for five months, plus past-due utility bills.
“So, if you can imagine being five months behind on your rent and a program coming to the rescue to relieve that burden and for someone to be able to have the time to find new employment and to get back on their feet," said Ziegler.
She added that silver linings like the reopening of businesses haven’t exactly translated into a liveable income for many families.
“Once they reported back to work they were sent home because the business isn’t there to sustain their employment," Ziegler said. "So while there was hope that hope has significantly dwindled again and so they are continuing to face these same obstacles over and over again.”
Eligibility requirements include:
- You must live in Hillsborough County (includes Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace)
- You must have been impacted by a reduction in or loss of wages resulting from a layoff or lessening of hours due to COVID-19 between March - July 2020.
- Liquid assets must not exceed $3,600.
- You must have a current lease or mortgage obligation and past-due utility bills.
- Fall within income qualifications.
Ziegler warns to not forget to provide all the mandatory documentation. The first time around, 25% of approved-applicants didn’t receive housing assistance because they didn't have all the documentation.
It's also first-come, first-serve.
“They are coming in at about 20 every minute," she said.
Already, the county received over 2,000 applications since the portal opened at 10 a.m. Monday. The demand is so great the portal kept crashing throughout the day. County leaders said if this happens to you, keep trying.