Housing crisis

housing assistance eligibility expands

The Sarasota County Rental Assistance Program has expanded its eligibility criteria, meaning some families and individuals are now eligible for assistance that was not originally eligible.

The county has been accepting rental assistance applications since last May. Until recently, the county used only one funding source for aid – ERA1. This funding comes from COVID-19 relief legislation that Congress passed in December 2020.

ERA1 requires individuals to show that they have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, either directly or indirectly.

However, the county recently began providing assistance from an additional funding source, ERA2, which came from a COVID-19 relief bill passed last March. ERA2 only requires households to demonstrate that they have been economically impacted during the pandemic. In other words, they no longer need to show that their economic struggles are linked to the pandemic.

“Applicants who may not have met this narrower definition of COVID impact under ERA1 have the option to go back and continue their application under this broader impact of ERA2” said Laurel Varnell, manager of the county’s emergency rental assistance program.

Fund:Only about 19% of Sarasota County housing assistance funds have been distributed

Following:The nation’s fastest rent hikes cause difficulties in the Sarasota metro

Through ERA1, the county program can provide residents with up to 15 months of rent and utility assistance. ERA2, on the other hand, provides up to 18 months of support.

Households that have received 15 months of assistance through ERA1 can apply for an additional three months of assistance through ERA2.

A tenant must have a household income at or below 80% of the area median income to be eligible for either funding source. For a family of four, that’s $61,750.

Sarasota County could potentially receive $10 million from ERA2. The county has received $4 million from the funding source so far, and it will need to distribute 75% of that sum before it can receive additional funds.

ERA2 funds will be available until September 30, 2025.

The county also still has money from ERA1. The county has received $13 million from this funding source, and 62% of that has been distributed so far. These funds are available until September 30.

Changes to documentation requirements

As of early September last year, only 18.8% of Sarasota County’s ERA1 money had been distributed to residents. County staff and local nonprofits said the housing assistance application process was taking too long.

The Treasury Department has asked emergency rental assistance programs to find ways to streamline their documentation requirements.

To qualify for ERA1 funding, applicants must demonstrate that they have been affected by the pandemic. To fulfill this requirement, applicants from certain industries – such as restaurants – must now prove that they work in one of these industries. In other words, they don’t need to submit as many documents to meet this requirement as before.

The emergency rental assistance program has provided financial assistance to more than 750 households since its launch, Varnell said Tuesday. To learn more about the program, visit tinyurl.com/sarasotahousinghelp.

Anne Snabes covers city and county government for the Herald-Tribune. You can contact her at asnabes@gannett.com or (941) 228-3321 and follow her on Twitter at @a_snabes.