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Lee CARES Emergency​ Rental Assistance Program to reopen for eligible residents

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Relief is on the way for you if you’re worried you won’t be able to pay your rent or utility fees: Lee County commissioners are looking to get renters more money through the Lee CARES Emergency​ Rental Assistance Program.

Through January, Lee County distributed more than $60 million in aid during the pandemic. The county has received over $23 million to help renters through this program, which will be used to pay their bills.

LINK: Lee CARES information

The application portal will open for applications at 8 a.m. on March 1.

Victoria Garrett of Fort Myers was one week away from celebrating a year at her dream job.

“I was pregnant. I had just had a baby, I was working from home anyway due to COVID and then they dropped my hours down to 20…. then I went back in the office, he was like hey, we just don’t have enough work right now. We have to eliminate your position.”

Her job was the only way the single mom could keep the lights on and a roof over her baby boy’s head. The pandemic ripped that away.

“I completely panicked, I was in tears. At this point, I was like, ‘OK, God, so something better is going to happen.”

Thousands of families prayed that same prayer as doors closed, tips stopped and paychecks disappeared.

One thing that the pandemic didn’t stamp out: a helping hand for families in need.

Lee County will pay up to six months of past due rent and utilities and three months of prospective payments for qualified households, plus ongoing payment of future rent as permitted. However, rental assistance cannot exceed a total of 12 months for each qualified household. The total months include past due, current due, and prospective payments.

If a household requires additional assistance after the arrears and three months’ prospective payments are made, they must recertify by providing updated documentation. The county intends to pay landlords directly.

City of Fort Myers residents will need to apply on their municipal website.

Those who are deemed eligible could receive up to six months of financial help, as well as three future rent payments. An eligible household must meet these criteria:

  • Your finances took a hit because of the pandemic
  • You’re at risk of homelessness
  • Your household income must be at or below 80 % of the area median

That means a single person who took home $38,600 or less, or a family of four that made $59,500 or less.

Andrew Banyai, executive director of the Lee County Legal Aid Society, deals with rental law, and he believes commissioners will approve these funds because everybody benefits from them.

“Provide relief to people who are having trouble making their rent payments: It will help tenants, it will help the landlords and it will help the community at large,” Banyai said. “If tenants are given the means to pay their rent, everybody wins—because tenants are able to stay in their homes, because landlords are able to pay their mortgages and those tenants are then able to get work and get jobs to continue to pay future rents, because they continue to have a stable place to live.”

Banyai points out that not having a permanent address can dramatically affect someone’s ability to find a job.

You can apply even if you have a temporary job like Garrett does or if you collect unemployment.

“A lifesaver. Like what would I do without it? Right? These programs … I’d probably be homeless. I wouldn’t be able to put food on my table. I definitely wouldn’t be able to put clothes on our back.”