Update: At the last minute Tuesday night, Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the moratorium until August 1.
Evictions have long been a big concern for Floridians. As the pandemic took hold and jobs were lost, many asked themselves how they were going to continue paying rent.
Then a Florida court endorsed a stay on evictions and foreclosures — and Gov. Ron DeSantis extended it until July 1.
Back in April, the pandemic-induced unemployment rate was 12.9 percent and rising, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even though DeSantis made some CARES Act money available, there’s no guarantee that people will be able to make their payments when the deadline passes this week.
Organizations like the Community Justice Project (CJP) are preparing for an onslaught of eviction orders that may cause people to become homeless, especially if they’re not aware of their rights as tenants and mortgage holders.
CJP is a community of lawyers that promotes democracy, equality and social movement. They offer legal representation to people facing poverty with a focus on minorities and those experiencing language and cultural barriers.
“We’re helping communities, and it demands resources,” Denise Ghartey, a member of CJP, said. “People are at home because they lost their job and are unable to get benefits assistance because the system is not working properly.”
Ghartey explained that people need to seek help if they hope to get it.
“People need to understand that they cannot be evicted until they see a notice from the court,” Ghartey said. “If your landlord evicts you without an order, it is illegal.”
CJP doesn’t charge for any service; everything it does is to serve the community. Another organization that helps the community fight unjust evictions is the Miami Tenants Union.
“A lot of tenants or renters don’t know their rights,” Wesley Chau, member of the Miami Tenants Union, said. “The landlords know that, and they can say ‘I’m going to evict you’ and that scares people away.”
Chau also emphasized that in Miami, a lot of people don’t speak fluent English and they don’t know how things work, what to do, or that there is someone who can help them.
“Sometimes landlords harass the tenant by saying, for example, that they have to pay more money,” Chau said. “We help tenants set up a union, so they can learn and know their rights and can stand up.”
Chau also said that once the rent freeze is over, a lot of people could become homeless, and unfortunately organizations are not going to be able to help them all because there will be too many people needing assistance. City authorities should also realize that this will hurt the economy further because Miami is a tourist destination and tourists won’t like to see that.
“We can keep fighting for rent freezing. There are a lot of places – Seattle, California and Hawaii – where rent freezing is still going on,” Chau said. “It is good because people don’t have a job yet.”
Daniela Vasquez, a Florida resident and mother of two, lost her job on March 15 due to the pandemic. She is worried about how she will pay her expenses. She applied for Florida unemployment benefits, but her claim is still pending.
“I started a new job in January of this year, and two months later, they gave me laid off (sic) because COVID-19,” Vasquez said. “I don’t know how to pay my rent yet, and I am worried because I don’t have another place to go with my kids.”