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United Way Suncoast devotes $3 million to eviction crisis

In Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, 18,405 evictions have been filed since the pandemic, United Way Suncoast reports.

TAMPA, Fla — A Florida organization geared toward creating a better opportunity for people in local communities is pledging $3 million to address the eviction crisis.

United Way Suncoast's R.I.S.E. Task Force is using funds from the MacKenzie Scott gift to help out their five-county area of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties that are suffering from evictions.

Back in December 2020, United Way Suncoast (USW) received a record-breaking $20 million donation from Jeff Bezos' ex-wife, Mackenzie Scott. It was part of $4.2 billion she donated to 385 organizations.

In both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, 18,405 evictions have been filed since the pandemic began, the organization reports. Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties are facing a growing number of evictions. UWS says it doesn't help that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ended its eviction moratorium last month.

The R.I.S.E. Task Force plans to address the issue in each of the five counties suffering from eviction notices. With the money, the organization says it will be "creating cohorts of nonprofit agencies, providing legal support to tenants facing eviction, building awareness about the issue and continuing our advocacy efforts."

UWS is not acting alone in this effort. More than 30 nonprofits have joined in to combat the issue and continue advocacy efforts. They're hoping to allocate some of the federal aid relief that the stay has been supplied with already. 

"While governments in our five-county region have already distributed $40 million in Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) to address this issue, more than $58 million allocated to ERA sits with the counties and another $790 million sits unused at the state," UWS said in a press release. 

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As UWS works to distribute the money that's logjammed, the organization says much of the $3 million will go toward hiring rental navigators. Several local municipalities told them rental navigation would be the best way to receive the rental assistance funding. 

"Renters in need of assistance routinely have more success meeting the demands of the application process when guided by a rental navigator," UWS says. "Through a partnership with Florida Blue, Bay Area Legal, the University Area CDC and Gulfcoast Legal, we’ve already funded a pair of rental navigators and witnessed their success."

In addition to hiring rental navigators, UWS also plans on training volunteers to be navigators as they are needed. 

The fight to help struggling community members with evictions doesn't stop there. USW also plans to ask for donations to further address the eviction crisis and "the broader goal of financial stability." This includes advocating for two bills in the Florida legislature: eviction record sealing and eviction mediation. 

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