Help available for those behind on rent and mortgages

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OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County residents who were out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have fallen behind in rent or mortgage payments can apply for grants from CARES Act funding.

At their July 23, meeting, the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution to accept a distribution of $240,768 from Florida Housing Finance Corporation in Coronavirus Relief Funds.

These funds will be awarded to help eligible households who had/have experienced a COVID-19 hardship of unemployment or underemployment after March 1, 2020 until Dec. 30, 2020.

At their Aug. 20 meeting, commissioners approved the guidelines for applications for help with rent and mortgage payments.

Okeechobee County State Housing Initiatives Parternship (SHIP) Program Coordinator Joy Jarriel said funds must be distributed along the guidelines set by the state. Funds are available for back rent and mortgage payments and to reduce homelessness. Help is also available for utility payments under certain circumstances.

“We’re going to be able to pay for first month’s rent and security deposit for those who are homeless,” she explained.

Jarriel said the money goes directly to the mortgage holder, the landlord or the utility.

There’s a catch: To qualify for payments, rental housing must meet state standards for adequate housing.

“If a mobile home is pre-1995, we cannot assist them because the state does not consider that adequate housing,” said Jarriel.

“Ninety percent of them are going to be in a mobile home older than 1995,” said County Commissioner David Hazellief. “We’re not going to be able to service the people who most need it.”

County Manager Robbie Chartier said in order to approve funds to help someone renting a mobile home that was built prior to 1995, they have to show the home is not substandard. She said the work that is involved to prove to the state that the home is not substandard requires time-consuming inspections. “You have to show the flooring is not substandard, that the AC is right, that the plumbing works. It even goes into appliances,” she explained.

“I can tell you up front, there is no use in doing the inspections because that type of mobile home that is rented in Okeechobee is not going to pass,” said Hazellief. “What can we do to help these people who probably need it more than someone who is living in a 2014 model?”

“If they are in substandard housing and they can’t apply for rent or mortgage assistance, they could apply for this program which is the prevention of homelessness,” said Jarriel. She said they could apply for the funds to move into an eligible rental which is not substandard housing. She said the applicant would have to bring the paperwork showing they have secured a rental but do not have the first month’s rent and security deposit needed to get into the new home.

“I think it’s going to encourage people to relocate, if they are living in a home where we cannot assist them,” said Hazellief.

“I used to be a real estate appraiser,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. On the age of something, appraisers consider the calendar age of the structure, he explained, but they also consider the effective age. The effective age takes into consideration what repairs have been made, such as a new roof, maintenance and painting. Even if a structure has a calendar age of 25 years, it could have an effective age of 10 years, he said.

He said some mobile homes have been rehabbed with new floors and updated appliances and are in better condition than when they were new.

“June 1994 was when the standards changed,” said Jarriel. “Anything older than 1995 does not meet those standards.

“Not only does it have to match the age, it has to have a permit to show it was installed correctly. The installation date shows the age of the home and that is what they go on.”

Hazellief said there are not very many rentals available in Okeechobee County that people who are living in substandard housing now can afford.

He also asked about the help for those behind in their mortgage payments. “If they are behind on the mortgage payments, most of the time a bank won’t take a partial payment,” he said. “I don’t know what your limits are.”

“For past due mortgages, the Treasury has allowed us to go ahead and pay the past due up to April,” she said.

Applications will be accepted beginning August 24. The SHIP Coordinator has a waiting list started.

According to information posted online by Okeechobee County on Aug. 21, help is available for those who experienced unemployment or underemployment due to COVID-19, and who have a family income less than the 120% median amount.

Available programs include:

• Foreclosure and Eviction Prevention: Funds will be awarded to help eligible households pay past-due rent or in default mortgage and PITI payments, late fees, past due and current uility payments (including water, sewer, gas and electric) and current rent and mortgage payments - starting from bills due April 1, 2020 until Dec. 30, 2020. An eligible household is defined as a household who had/has a hardship related to COVID-19 after March 1, 2020. The hardship must include unemployment or underemployment. Award may vary depending on household need. Inhabitants of mobile homes older than 1995 are not eligible for rent or mortgage assistance.

• Prevention of Homelessness and Re-Housing Assistance: Funds will be awarded to pay re-housing needs, such as first and security deposits, for eligible households. An eligible household is defined as a household who had/has a hardship related to COVID-19 after March 1, 2020. The hardship must include unemployment or underemployment. Award may vary depending on household need.

Applications will be accepted between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. beginning Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 until the funds are encumbered or until Dec. 1, 2020. Funds are awarded on a “first-ready, first-served” basis.

To request an application, call 863-763-9312 Extension 6 or email jjarriel@co.okeechobee.fl.us.

Completed applications can be submitted by mail, dropped off (by appointment only), or emailed electronically.

Submit application to:
Attention: Joy Jarriel, 304 NW Second Street, Room 105, Okeechobee, FL 34972, or

Email: jjarriel@co.okeechobee.fl.us

Eligible household incomes are those below the 120% median for Okeechobee County:
• One person - $44,400;
• Two people - $50,760;
• Three people - $57,120;
• Four people - $63,360;
• Five people - $68,520;
• Six people - $73,560;
• Seven people - $78,600;
• Eight people - $83,640;
• Nine people - $88,704;
• 10 people - $93,773.

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