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Polk County to offer an additional $2.5 million in rent and mortgage assistance

It comes at a time when in many areas, eviction moratoriums are ending.

BARTOW, Fla. — It is going to be a very difficult and stressful holiday season for people still struggling to keep a roof over their heads because of COVID-19.

In many areas, eviction moratoriums are ending.

But now, for some living in Polk County, help is on the way, with a plan to make another $2.5 million available to help people pay their mortgages and rent.

“I’m hoping that I can get my rent paid,” said Jaqueline Shelby, who -- like so many others -- has had a difficult time making ends meet.

Any assistance paying the rent to keep a roof over her family’s head, Shelby says is a Godsend.

“It’s been very hard for me. Very hard,” Shelby said. “But, thank God I made it through. And I’m just believing today that I’m going to get my rent paid.”

“There are a lot of people out here still hurting,” said Polk County Housing and Neighborhood Development Manager Tamara West.

West says Polk County has heard the message from those in need repeatedly.

And while there is light at the end of the tunnel, they also know eviction protection for many will soon be ending.

“And there is that fear that with the moratorium that is going to end on the 31st we just don’t know what those impacts are going to be,” West said.

In response, just in time for the new year, Polk County is combining $1.5 million in federal assistance with $1 million from a community development grant.

All of it will help hundreds of people stay in their homes.

“With the rents and mortgages, it all varies. So, we’re thinking about 750 clients will be able to be assisted,” West said.

This latest round of housing help will provide up to $5,000 on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Applications can be submitted through the county’s website from 8:00 a.m. on December 29 until 5:00 p.m. on December 31.

It’s not a blank check. Payments are made directly to mortgage holders or landlords. Banking and employment records will also be reviewed, West said.

“Staff will be checking documentation, and if it looks questionable then more than likely they will not get approved,” she said.

Polk County knows people will probably have some questions. So, they’ll also have a call center open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the application period. That number is (863) 519-1000.

Anyone in Polk County who can show need is eligible, with the exception of those who’ve already received the same rent or mortgage assistance. Also, people who live in Lakeland will need to work directly with the city, which received its own grant money.

“This is actually pretty great,” West said. “And we really don’t want people to be homeless during the holidays.”

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