Evictions in Orange County down due to diversion program

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Nathalie Ozuna’s story begins like thousands of others in Central Florida.

She was working at the airport and they started “substantially” slowing her hours down, she said. “And eventually, I was out of a job.”

Despite taking every small job she’s found, she fears it will soon end the same as thousands of others.

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“My bills were always done ahead of time but since August, it’s been like, ‘Am I gonna make it?’”

On Dec. 1, nine months later, she didn’t.

“I don’t know what I’m going to figure out. But I know for a fact, I’m not coming up with almost $3,000 in two weeks,” Ozuna said.

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Orange County has been trying to help residents like her since the end of August.

Their one-of-a-kind eviction diversion program gives landlords up to $4,000 to cover unpaid rent and fees if they agree not to evict before the end of the year.

And data shows it seemed to have helped.

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Before the program went into place, final actions for evictions were down about the same throughout Central Florida. But in August, Gov. Ron DeSantis loosened his moratorium.

By October, as landlord played catch-up, most of the counties were seeing more evictions served than they did in February -- increases as big as 55% and 58% in Seminole and Marion County.

But Orange County is still seeing slightly less evictions than they were in February.

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“I think the program overall has gone extraordinarily well here in this community,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

The program requires you to be two months behind in rent, and by the time your landlord gets the funding, you’ll be three.

The portal closed Wednesday to new applicants. Landlords and tenants already pre-screened have to complete the application by Dec. 24, in order for the county to beat the federal deadline to get money out in time.

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“We believe that at the end of December, we will have expended all of those dollars,” Demings said.

According to the county, $7.4 million has been distributed, which means they have about $6 million left to hand out in 15 days. In the past 14 days, $900,000 has been distributed.

People who are facing an eviction may also call Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida at 800-405-1417. Attorneys answer the phones at that number and provide free legal advice to those who qualify.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.