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Leon County Commission Retreat focuses on rent assistance

Posted at 6:41 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 18:41:46-05

LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County leaders are now working to address Meeting the housing needs of families impacted the most by the pandemic.

Leon CARES is the largest aid program in the county's history. The program helps people, businesses, and non-profits impacted by the coronavirus.

At Monday's Leon County Commission Retreat, commissioners looked at ways to use more federal dollars to bring relief to more people.

Widespread job loss caused by the pandemic increased the poverty level to 20 percent in Leon County. Since the pandemic, 3.4 million meals have been given to people struggling to feed their families.

Leon County gave out $11.4 million to help nearly 5,000 families pay rent and utility bills.

"Keeping people in their homes is one of the most important issues we have right now. A lot of people are out of work, working less, they're just trying to make ends meet," said Leon County Commission Chairman Rick Minor.

Moving into 2021, Commissioners say that the need remains. During Monday's retreat, Commissioners discussed the next steps to help the community with food and shelter. That includes the proposed Leon County Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

"It's basically going to be a program where landlords can get rent past due as well as tenants. It's a program that helps out the folks struggling to afford rent as well as the landlords providing the housing," said Chairman Minor.

The $8.9 million program would be funded by money issued by Congress in late December.

To qualify, you must also qualify for unemployment or show a reduction in income, show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and have a household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income.

If approved, landlords and tenants can apply to cover past-due and future rent payments for up to 12 months.

Leon County Commissioners will vote on the program at their Tuesday meeting.

However, other groups are looking at the more long term impacts of poverty.

Bart Bidler is the CEO of I Hope. It's a group focused on bringing leaders together to address issues in communities statewide. Bidler says their latest focus is to establish a poverty reduction goal for our county and discuss some collaborative steps to achieving that goal.

Bidler plans to pair commissioners and community leaders with their counterparts in other counties to look at ways to tackle poverty. The plan comes during a time when Leon county's poverty level sits at 20 percent.

I Hope plans to host a Poverty Reduction Forum in mid-February.