United Way Suncoast’s R.I.S.E. Task Force prioritized a portion of the MacKenzie Scott gift for immediate needs, and right now, one of our five-county area’s most pressing problems is the eviction crisis.
In Hillsborough and Pinellas, 18,405 eviction filings have been filed since the start of the pandemic. In Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto, data points and anecdotal evidence point toward the numbers growing larger, especially since the Centers for Disease Control ended its eviction moratorium in October.
To address the complex issue, United Way Suncoast will move forward this month with plans to devote $3 million towards the crisis. The eviction defense plan will focus on addressing four main areas across all five counties:
- Creating cohorts of nonprofit agencies
- Providing legal support to tenants facing eviction
- Building awareness about the issue
- Continuing our advocacy efforts.
The initiative will extend our work with Bay Area Legal Services and Gulfcoast Legal Services. In addition, more than 30 nonprofits and foundations have stepped up to join us in addressing the challenge.
Legal support can help untangle the clog of federal aid relief. While governments in our region have already distributed $40 million in Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) to address this issue, more than $58 million allocated to ERA sits with the counties and another $790 million sits unused at the state. When UWS officials reached out to municipalities to ask how we could help with the logjam, one of the most consistent responses we heard involved rental navigation.
So, much of our funding will go towards hiring rental navigators. Renters in need of assistance routinely have more success meeting the demands of the application process when guided by a rental navigator. Through a partnership with Florida Blue, Bay Area Legal, the University Area CDC and Gulfcoast Legal, we’ve already funded a pair of rental navigators and witnessed their success.
In addition, we’ll train volunteers to be navigators — increasing needed staffing. We’ll also ask the community to contribute to a fund that will specifically address the crisis.
Our awareness will build through connecting with media outlets across the region, and our advocacy will involve two bills in the Florida legislature in the upcoming session; one focused on eviction record sealing and the other on eviction mediation.
The long-term solutions to this complex problem will require community groups, corporate partners and local and state officials working together to address its multiple aspects. We will build on this initial effort while ensuring we remain agile in addressing the crisis in front of us. We recognize temporary relief must be coupled with sustainable changes, but at United Way Suncoast, our mission is rooted in creating lasting community impact.