Lee CARES rental and utility assistance application portal now open

Reporter: Anika Henanger
Published: Updated:
LeeCARES logo. Photo via WINK News

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 opened on March 1.

Lee County received 1,457 applications (excluding the City of Fort Myers) within the first hour. The City of Fort Myers received 270 applications, as of 3:30 p.m.

The County also says, there no current deadline to apply at this time.

Lee County also says, there has been higher demand than they expected on the first day.

The criteria to qualify was created by the federal government under the CARES Act, and if demand isn’t high enough to get all the money in the hands of people who need it, Lee County said they would consider talking to the federal government about the criteria.

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.

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