When news of the coronavirus first hit last year, Yasmin Pena was among those whose housing situation soon became uncertain.
The mother of two teenagers—both of whom have sickle cell anemia—didn't want to put their health at risk and soon lost her job as a restaurant manager. Making her monthly rent was hard—even when unemployment eventually came through—and a federal pause on evictions protected her from becoming homeless.
"I couldn't risk bringing (COVID-19) home to them. I was let go. I was on unemployment. It took two months and finally I got it. I was living day by day," said Pena, who now lives with her family in a Palm Bay temporary rental, which costs nearly as much as she makes each month.
When COVID-19 slowed down large portions of the service industry and the economy as a whole last year, the Centers for Disease Control issued a federal moratorium on evictions to protect renters like Pena from becoming homeless.
"I fell under eviction twice and the moratorium protected me both times," Pena said. "I've worked since 14 years old. That was the first time I'd ever been without a job."
So far, the federal government has issued one extension on the moratorium, which is set to expire Saturday after 11 months in place. President Joe Biden asked Congress to extend the moratorium Thursday after the Supreme Court ruled the moratorium was not included in the CDC's authority.
That hold on evictions endsjust as health officials are sounding dire new warnings on a new surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the emergence of the more contagious delta variant of the virus.
Extent of the issue
Brevard County's Clerk of Courts does not track how many tenants like Pena have applied for reprieve under the eviction moratorium, but records show 71 filings have been made under the Tenant CARES Act, which added a stipulation requiring landlords to give tenants 30 days notice on any eviction lawsuit.
“While our office is unable to anticipate how many evictions or foreclosures have yet to be filed due to applicable moratoriums or forbearance programs, we are aware that some have been put on hold due to various filings by tenants and homeowners," said Tyler Winik, Director of Organizational Development and Public Affairs with the Clerk of Courts office.
"As with any case, we will timely file and process pleadings for these types of cases according to the Supreme Court of Florida’s rules of court and any applicable statewide or local administrative order," Winik added.
A study conducted by AdvisorSmith.com—a small business resource company—found that Florida last year was among the highest states in the country for eviction risk, sitting at number two with 15.6% of renters at risk of losing their homes.
Philip Zies, a real estate lawyer based in Melbourne, said there's no way to know how bad the eviction problem could get when the moratorium ends this weekend.
"There are lots of tenants who have been hurt by this COVID pandemic who need this government assistance or they’re going to be homeless," Zies said. "Long before there was a pandemic, there were so many people who are unable to afford housing and who had a very difficult time finding housing."
Zies, who also represents landlords, said many property owners have gone without rent for close to a year and have had no relief themselves. "It’s a very complicated issue," he said.
Ian Golden, director of Brevard County's Health and Human Services Department, said the eviction moratorium is something his agency is watching closely.
"Anything that’s going to accelerate people being evicted will have an impact on housing and people who are looking for housing," Golden said.
“I think in general there’s a need for affordable housing. I think there’s going to be an impact and increase in people applying for assistance. Right now we have funds available," he added.
Golden said his agency has around $14 million left in rental assistance money to help homeowners from an original $18 million that was disbursed last year. Another $14.5 million will become available in the future from the American Rescue Plan Act.
"We've had around 1,200 applications since we opened it up last March. Of those, we’ve probably helped about 750. We still have over 600 applications pending, where we're waiting on documents from the applicant," Golden said.
"Of the total applicants, around 200 have been denied, either because they did not provide all necessary documentation or they weren’t eligible according to the federal guidelines," Golden said.
He added that anyone seeking rental relief should go to www.brevardfl.gov/humanservices or any library branch in the county, where the forms can also be turned in.
In the meantime, renters like Pena have seen the worst the pandemic has had to offer. She and her children have lived in her car and motels while waiting on assistance. Pena is working again as a restaurant manager but worries COVID could derail things again.
"I think the government should be doing more to protect us. It's not our fault that we lost our jobs and can't work. It's not like i don't want to work," she said.