Latest COVID-19 spike could leave even more Floridians vulnerable to evictions

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — More people are on the verge of losing their homes, and a new study shows how the ongoing eviction surge could worsen Florida’s COVID-19 spike.

Over the summer, researchers used Florida as an example of how eviction bans could help prevent further spread of the virus. But now, eviction filings are increasing along with the state’s cases.

READ: ‘There’s nowhere for them to go’: Central Floridians on brink of homelessness as pandemic worsens affordable housing crisis

Researchers estimated people who lost their homes and moved in with others led to more than 433,000 additional cases and 10,700 deaths. And that was just by Sept. 3.

From March, eviction filings dropped off as unemployment suddenly picked up and as Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a ban on evictions due to nonpayment of rent.

Historic lows continued the next few months until August when DeSantis tweaked the wording, giving the green light for more landlords to file cases.

READ: Pandemic to worsen Orlando’s affordable housing shortage

August filings were double the last four months combined, and they’ve only ticked up from there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction ban is much stricter for tenants than Florida’s moratorium, with tenants having to state they would end up in homeless shelters or living in close quarters with others if they were evicted.

But some Orange County landlords have tried to help their tenants avoid the courtroom and stay in their homes.

READ: Orange County evictions spike, millions of dollars in assistance still available

Orange County offers landlords the chance to get a few months of their tenants’ basic rent covered using the federal CARES Act funding, the government’s coronavirus relief bill.

So far, $6.5 million of the $13 million have been paid out to landlords across the county. But the clock runs out on using the federal money on Dec. 31, which means January could be devastating.

READ: Residents of Orange County complex face deplorable conditions, evictions

“We fully anticipate, candidly, thousands of eviction filings if there’s not some continued opportunity for resolution and relief on those clients,” Judge Don Myers said.

Because the money has to be distributed by Dec. 31, Orange County is closing applications on Dec. 16.

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.