An alliance of consumer and renter groups is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to again extend his moratorium on evictions and home foreclosures, and to add protections for Floridians who may soon see their utilities shutoff due to the coronavirus economic crisis.
The Florida Housing Justice Alliance and Connected in Crisis, two progressive organizations that have been pushing for protection for renters, utility customers and others, wrote to DeSantis Wednesday urging him to extend his evictions and foreclosures moratorium order set to expire Oct. 1, and to formalize unofficial moratoria many utilities have voluntarily followed for utility shutoffs.
Some utilities are planning to resume shutoffs Oct. 1. Some, such as Florida Power & Light, are setting up aid programs to help consumers who have fallen behind on payments.
To provide assurances that the crisis would not lead to mass forced homelessness, DeSantis has extended his order for a moratorium on evictions and home foreclosures several times, most recently to cover the month of September.
The coalition is urging DeSantis to take additional actions to protect Floridians suffering from the high unemployment, job insecurity, and housing shortage that have plagued at least since the coronavirus outbreak crashed the economy in March.
Tops among those additional measures would support for longterm programs to help renters who could soon be facing foreboding loads of due back rent. The groups urge DeSantis to consider offering state help toward negotiated rent settlements and direct financial assistance. The letter suggests the financial hit could be in the billions of dollars for Florida.
“No one should face eviction or loss of utility services due to inability to pay during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of a global pandemic, hurricane season, extreme joblessness and a state unemployment system that continues to deny Floridians the funds rightfully theirs, this is a matter of life or death,” the letter states. “The working poor, Black Floridians, and immigrant communities are disproportionately at risk. Housing and utility security for the most marginalized Floridians is not only a moral imperative, but critical to the health, safety, and economic well being of our entire state.”
Specifically, the groups are calling on DeSantis to:
— Extend his Executive Order 20-180 regarding eviction and mortgage relief, at least until the end of this year.
The letter notes there already is in place a federal moratorium on evictions through Dec. 31, but argues, a state extension “will provide a second layer of protection to tenants adversely impacted by COVID-19 and unable to pay rent, in the case that federal protections disappear.”
— Require Florida utilities to extend stays on disconnections through June 1, 2021.
The letter notes that many states have passed moratoria on utility disconnects, but Florida has left it as a voluntary measure for the utilities. “Though many utility companies voluntarily issued stays, they have already terminated protections or announced plans to do so in the near future,” the letter argues. “Prematurely dispensing these protections would undermine the health and safety of Florida residents.”
— Mandate utilities to waive fees and fines for customers through June 1, 2021.
“Punitive measures to ensure compliance are inappropriate during the present crisis,” the letter states. “Utilities should suspend fines that they normally charge for late payment, return payment, credit or debit card payment, and service reconnection until the State has achieved a full recovery.”
— Allocate direct financial assistance for rent, mortgages, and utilities.
Sooner or later, the back rent will be due. The letter cites a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that estimates Florida would need $5.4-$6.25 billion dollars in direct assistance to stabilize Florida’s housing crisis. “Even with moratoriums on eviction, foreclosure, and utility shut-offs, struggling Floridians will owe thousands in unpaid debt when these protections end,” the letter argues. “The state must provide direct relief, and negotiate between banks, public utility companies, and landlords to provide relief to Floridians.”