If you are currently struggling to pay your housing expenses, you are not alone.
In early March 2021, about one in six U.S. renters said they were behind on rent payments. These data come from an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). And due to systemic racism and longstanding inequities, this group does not mirror the racial makeup of the United States. In other words, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) face housing struggles at higher rates than Whites. These disparities result from centuries of injustice that must be urgently rectified through local, state, and national policies.
One in six renters is quite a lot. And this is actually probably an underestimate because of the way the Census Bureau conducted the surveys. So, if you’re having trouble covering the cost of housing, you are among over 12 million people across the country.
The good news is that here in Alachua County, there are some resources that can help you.
For example, SWAG is one of many local organizations currently working on this issue. If you need information on affordable housing or rental assistance, please contact the SWAG Family Resource Center at 352-505-6823. On the other hand, if you are among those fortunate enough to be stably housed, there are lots of ways you can help!
Struggling to pay rent?
Know your rights.
Many people don’t know that the eviction process is a long one. Specifically, you can’t be removed from your home without a court order. This poster from the Community Justice Project explains the process and some of your rights and responsibilities as a renter. The Alachua County Labor Coalition also has information about renters’ rights, responsibilities, and resources.
Also, keep in mind that the federal Fair Housing Act and the Human Rights Ordinance in the Alachua County code make housing discrimination illegal. Therefore, if you are a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Alachua County Equal Opportunity Office within 180 days.
Find out if you are eligible for COVID-19 eviction protections.
One proactive thing you can do is to fill out a CDC Eviction Protection Declaration and give it to your landlord. If you need help determining whether you are eligible for these protections, see the first page of the form or call (800) 569-4287. You can also search this map to see if there are any other protection programs that might apply to you.
Apply for housing assistance.
Do you have late rental payments and a reduced household income due to COVID-19? If so, you may be eligible for up to $15,000 of assistance through the Alachua County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). First, you will need to make sure you meet eligibility criteria. This page has more information about eligibility for both you and your landlord. Then, if you qualify, the funds will be paid to your landlord and/or utility company. Through this program, you might even get help with paying rent in advance if you are experiencing COVID-related financial stress. See the Frequently Asked Questions page or call the Alachua County ERAP Helpline at 352-704-0301 with questions.
If you need to, get help from a lawyer.
Contact Three Rivers Legal Service to find out if you qualify for free legal advice. One option is to call 866-256-8091 to make an appointment to talk to a lawyer. Another option is to apply online HERE, and a specialist will call you to talk about whether you are eligible for free assistance. This page also has some informational videos that can help answer questions you might have.
Difficulty paying for utilities?
Apply for housing assistance.
Even though it says “rental assistance,” the Alachua County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) can also help you pay for utilities! To find out more and see detailed eligibility criteria, visit this page. Another way to learn more about the program is to check the Frequently Asked Questions page or call 352-704-0301.
Consider whether your home needs an energy efficiency upgrade.
If you have a bill that seems high, check your energy consumption. Unexpectedly high consumption rates could mean something in your home is not working as well as it should. You may also be facing a disproportionate energy burden. Reach out to your landlord or apartment maintenance office to have broken appliances or structures fixed. Then, if this leads to a dispute with your landlord, Three Rivers Legal Service may be able to help you.
If nothing is broken but you still want to lower your energy bill, you can apply for a FREE DIY Home Energy Tune-Up with the Community Weatherization Coalition (CWC). Then, you can access a kit to use for your tune-up and assistance from a coalition member. CWC also has energy and water efficiency tip videos HERE.
Want to improve housing equity?
These community organizations serving Alachua County accept donations to sustain their operations. Keep in mind that this is not even close to a complete list, and there are many, many other worthy organizations doing important work!
- SWAG has been using a portion of our budget to help residents with utility payments during COVID-19.
- Alachua County Labor Coalition uses mail, phone calls, emails, and canvassing to make sure people facing eviction cases know their options.
- Community Spring advocated for local eviction moratoriums during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been working to provide temporary housing to people experiencing houselessness.
- Community Weatherization Coalition provides free DIY Home Energy Tune-Ups. That way, people can lower their utility bills by making their homes more efficient.
- GRACE Marketplace provides shelter to people experiencing houselessness. Then, they provide resources to become and stay housed.
- Three Rivers Legal Services offers vital legal advice to low-income Floridians. Many of their cases relate to housing issues.
Consider contributing your time and specialized skills to organizations that meet housing needs in the community. For example, you could help the Alachua County Labor Coalition inform renters of their rights or organizing tenant unions. Or become an Energy Coach with the Community Weatherization Coalition. If you are an attorney, sign up to provide pro bono legal advice through Three Rivers Legal Service. And this is just a start. Whatever your skills and passions, there are many opportunities to find a great match to support your Alachua County neighbors.