#KeepOrlandoHome: Property managers, nonprofits raise money for rental assistance programs

ORLANDO, Fla. — As the calendar flips to a new month, thousands of newly out-of-work Central Floridians are left wondering how they’ll make their rent payments on time now or even a month from now.

Local nonprofits, government agencies and property managers are working to step up and fill part of the void left by missed or incomplete paychecks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is just the start,” said Adam Wonus, partner with Atrium Management Company. “I think next month is going to be even more difficult for people.”


READ: Orange County to end rental assistance program Wednesday after receiving more than 20,000 applications

Many renters are trying to figure out what’s next now that the rent is due but recovery checks from the federal government and unemployment benefits aren’t in yet. On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was issuing a stay-at-home order for the state, but did not announce a moratorium on evictions, which state Democrats have urged for.

“Not only could we see more and more Americans financially strained, we could see the health become worse because folks cannot shelter in place because they don’t have a place,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani.

The Florida Supreme Court said courts will no longer issue the final document showing a landlord won an eviction case, and many sheriff’s offices said they are suspending evictions that were already complete.

In Orange County, a rental assistance program funded by the government already hit capacity 12 days after it launched. The county said due to an “overwhelming response” from more than 20,000 applications, it is closing for applications at the end of the day Wednesday.

In Seminole County, the Community Assistance Program offers financial hardship assistance to those impacted by COVID-19. To speed up the application process due to the pandemic, the county said the requirements of on-going management and a two-year waiting period have been waived.

As of March 23, the county said 272 new applicants had applied for assistance.

To help stretch the money and help more families, the county also lowered the assistance amount you would normally get from $2,500 to $1,500.

In March, the Heart of Florida United Way established a fund to support the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, whose financial stability is being impacted by the pandemic. So far, officials said 6,100 people have applied for the fund so far.

“The need is far outpacing the resources we have,” said Jeff Hayward, president and CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way.

The ALICE Fund, which continues to accept donations to meet the mounting need, provides rent, mortgage and utility assistance to help prevent eviction and homelessness. Similar funds have also been established by other United Way chapters across Central Florida.

READ: Worried about making rent? Here are assistance programs available in Central Florida during coronavirus pandemic

Atrium Management Company, based in Orlando, launched its own rental relief program last week using the hashtag #KeepOrlandoHome. Wonus said the program allows residents who currently live in a property that the company manages to apply for a gift of up to 25% of their rent.

Wonus said the average rent for their just under 3,000 residents is $1,381 a month. That means those who are approved to participate will received around $345 off their rent, thanks to donations made to the fund.

He said the goal when they launched the program was to raise $10,000, which could assist 29 people.

They met that goal in less than a week, now upping it to $50,000. Donations to the fund can be made by clicking here.

READ: Orange County testing site reaches maximum amount of tests given during first day of criteria expansion

“We just want to see how many people we can help,” Wonus said.

To apply for the gift, he said residents have to fill out a form and prove that their job has been impacted by the pandemic.

In stressful times, Wonus said, the last thing people should have to worry about is keeping a roof over their heads.

READ: Coronavirus: Here’s how to apply for unemployment in Florida

“People’s homes are their most important thing, especially now when we’re all stuck in them,” he said. “It’s their safe place.”

He said he hopes Atrium’s program will help spark other similar programs with property management companies across the country.

“I know we’re not changing the entire world,” Wonus said. “But I think if we can spark brains across the country to try to reduce some of the stress from people’s lives then we did a great thing.”

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Last week our team started of thinking of ways we could help out the Orlando community. We drafted an email asking our property owners to pitch in and create a Rental Assistance Fund to help those truly in need who have lost their job due to COVID-19. In a few short days we hit our goal of $10,000!! We are now setting our sights higher and hoping to help many more families here in Orlando. During times of crisis our first instinct is to conserve. I’m asking anyone who is able to change that way of thinking for this unique situation. Over the past two weeks I’ve seen more acts of kindness than I have in the last ten years. People are out in their neighborhoods smiling and waiving at one another. It’s a feeling like we’re all in this together! If you’re in a position to make a donation any amount donated will go a long way in helping to relieve short term stress for some of our neighbors and the people who really make our city thrive! No amount is too small as I know this is going to make a big difference, let’s fight this virus together! GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/1y936e8kk0 #keeporlandohome #stayhealthy

Posted by Adam Wonus on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.