More than 6,000 Tampa Bay residents got help with rent in 2021
The aid was part of local emergency rental assistance programs supported by federal COVID-19 relief money.
The cost of rent has grown astronomically across the Tampa Bay region. For many of the area’s residents, COVID-19 rental assistance has kept them stably housed.
More than 6,278 households in Pinellas, Sarasota, and Pasco counties got help with rent and utilities last year. It was part of local emergency rental assistance programs supported by federal COVID-19 relief money.
Carol Stricklin, Pinellas County's Housing and Community Development director, said this aid is tremendously important.
"So people that during the pandemic have experienced some kind of economic hardship, whether through illness or job loss or other events, we're able to keep them in their homes by providing that rental assistance and utility assistance. And it really makes a profound difference in people’s lives to remain stably housed."
In sum, the Pinellas County Emergency Rental Assistance program helped 2,300 households pay their rent and utilities in 2021 — and 189 households so far this year —excluding residents in the city of St. Petersburg.
The current funding for the program will run at least through September, Stricklin said. Her office is monitoring whether the federal government will continue to provide money to the program.
The rising cost of housing continues to take its toll on Tampa Bay area residents.
Strickin said the rental assistance is just one piece of the county's work to create more affordable housing.
"It's certainly part of an overall strategy of providing affordable housing in Pinellas County,” she said. “This is assistance designed during this emergency, but we in the long-term are working on programs to increase the supply of affordable housing through construction of new units through down payment assistance. So it's very important during this time of economic impact, but we do have our eyes on the longer term."
Other local programs are seeing similar amounts of need.
In Pasco County, roughly 2,150 households received emergency rental and utility assistance last year, amounting to about $13 million, said Marcy Esbjerg, Pasco County’s community development director.
She expects the need to continue.
"When you put out so much money, you think that the need has gone down,” she said. “But No. 1, we're seeing some different people. The second thing is with each wave, new variant, it's impacting people in a different way."
Esbjerg said higher rental prices are compounding the problem. Prices have skyrocketed over the past couple years and availability is “nonexistent.” This means the market is commanding a higher price, she said.
“So it’s really put a strain on particularly the low- and moderate-income citizens — the people that we would help through these programs.”
Across the bay, 82 households in St. Petersburg received emergency aid this year and 1,107 received help in 2021, according to Lynn Farr, Senior Housing Development coordinator for the city. The total aid disbursed last year was more than $9 million.
Meanwhile, in Sarasota, 721 households received assistance last year for a combined $6,578,243, according to Laurel Varnell, Sarasota County Emergency Rental Assistance Program manager. So far, in 2022, 165 households have received aid for a total of about $364,000.