Since last March, 440 Hialeah households have applied for financial assistance to pay their rent through the Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP). They are all located in five of the city’s 10 ZIP codes – 33010, 33012, 33014, 33016 and 33018 – according to the city’s grants administration office.
Hialeah has received a $7 million Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) since the program’s inception on March 8, 2021. A total of $4.3 million , Roman O. García Jr., the city’s grant administrator, told el Nuevo Herald, has been awarded to residents since then.
Of that total, $391,000 has been used to provide assistance to 60 households since February, when Mayor Esteban Bovo Jr. explained at a press conference that the city would use federal funds to provide financial assistance to tenants who cannot afford the payments on their homes. .
The aid covers three months’ rent. And moving costs would be included in the contingency plan when tenants have a new home.
READ MORE: Here’s how eligible Miami-Dade residents can get emergency rental assistance
Rachel Rubí, a tenant at 1501 W 42nd St, is among those affected — along with her mother — by high housing costs. The rent for her building was increased by $650 in December 2021. Since then, she has joined the rest of the building’s tenants in seeking assistance from Miami-Dade County and City of Hialeah officials.
“We thank the City of Hialeah for helping us pay the rent to Eco Stone Group (the company that owns the property), but we feel they don’t deserve our money after all the trauma they’ve caused us with the $650 rent increase two days after Christmas in 2021,” Rubí complained.
AREA WITH THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF EVICTION CASES
In the five postal codes where the population of renters who applied for economic assistance is concentrated, 298 of the 422 deportation cases (70.6%) that the inhabitants of the city have been taken to court, according to a report on Miami-Dade County evictions.
Several cases have been dismissed, such as that of Yudet Pérez, tenant of the 1501 W 42nd St building, who, with her husband and daughter, feared becoming homeless. However, the eviction case will remain on his record, a precedent that could hamper their ability to move.
“The case will still appear in the deportation file, but it will show that it has been dismissed. They could file a motion to make it a confidential file in court. They have the right to do that. Alternatively, a landlord looking for their rental history can find this file. Only a few will go into the case to find out the verdict,” said Jeffrey M. Hearne, attorney and director of litigation at Legal Services of Greater Miami, an organization that provides free civil legal services.
Pérez said she and her family were stigmatized after exposing her economic situation in the media. She complained that real estate agents, when they recognized her, avoided showing her new units to move into. For now, she has no choice but to stay in her apartment, although she doesn’t know how much longer she will be able to live there.
It has been over a year since the start of the economic assistance program, yet the crisis has not eased in Hialeah. For many tenants, the future looks uncertain.
READ MORE: Displacement, evictions in Hialeah: The human tragedy of the Miami-Dade housing crisis persists
“Unfortunately, in Florida, we don’t have a lot of protections for renters. Landlords have no limit on how much they can increase rents,” Hearne noted, adding that “the county is conducting a study to determine if the housing emergency could result in rent controls that limit the increase. , but it’s unrealistic to think that this route is a solution to South Florida’s housing crisis.
EMERGENCY AID IN EFFECT UNTIL SEPTEMBER
the program sponsored by Miami-Dade County aims to help families struggling to pay rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, it covers payments for utilities and housing stabilization.
Although the aid program is in effect until September 30, 2022, some tenants say financial assistance in Hialeah is no longer considered an emergency because applications are not being processed quickly enough.
Rubí is one of the beneficiaries of this aid, along with seven other tenants in her building. However, she told el Nuevo Herald that her period of assistance ended in March and to date she has not received a response from the city regarding her renewal.
“The last time we asked for help to pay the rent, it was approved straight away because they classified our case as an emergency, but this time they don’t consider it as such. Almost a month has passed since the new request and we still do not have an answer,” explained Rubí.
In this regard, the City’s grants administrator assured that “as long as PARE funds are available, the City will help those who ask us for help”. He added that the City is “waiting to hear from the Treasury Department on whether or not this term will be extended.” He did not elaborate on reported delays in new applications.
UNSANITARY LIVING CONDITIONS
Rubí also has problems with the building’s living conditions.
“Our rent went up $650 in 30 days, but our walls are moldy and damp, and there’s no fire alarm. The tenants of this building are workers, the disabled and the elderly who do not deserve this treatment,” Rubí said.
A washer and dryer for 20 families was recently installed in the building, after the laundry room was eliminated during the pandemic, but Rubí pointed out that the appliances are in poor condition and insufficient for the number of people who live in the unit. .
On several occasions, el Nuevo Herald tried to communicate with the real estate company to know its version of the events, without success.
A “Tenants’ Bill of Rights” would bring new protections throughout Miami-Dade County, including preventing tenants from being evicted if they pay for repairs their landlord would have to pay.
READ MORE: Tenants could divert rent to pay for neglected repairs under Miami-Dade proposal
Under the proposal, tenants would be protected from eviction if they deducted the cost of repairs to the property from their rent.
The lack or poor quality of housing maintenance was one of the complaints tenants shared with county commissioners at the Public Housing and Community Services Committee hearing on April 14, while tenants landlords have warned that the new legislation could cause problems for tenants if unchanged.
Although Hearne is cautious about the scope of the bill, he believes it would “give stronger protection for tenants to challenge the landlord who takes advantage of it. The rule would give tenants more options but would not help make rent affordable,” he said.
The legislation also prohibits landlords from asking about past evictions before deciding whether a potential tenant would qualify to rent. If this rule is approved, the bias would end and it would allow people like Yudet Pérez, who was sued, to find a better place to live.
HOW TO GET HELP
City of Hialeah residents who need help paying their rent can apply for financial assistance at Hialeah Funding Opportunities / Emergency Rent Assistance Program (PARE) website or by calling 305-863-2970.