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More help coming for people with rent and utility troubles

Rental increases are outpacing the rising cost of a mortgage.
Rogelio V. Solis
Jacksonville is reopening a program to help people pay their rent and utilities.

Jacksonville will reopen a program to help hundreds of people who can't afford rent and utilities.

The City Council this week provided $2 million in additional money for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The city estimates it could help as many as 250 renters in Duval County.

The city expects to work with renters as early as next week. Those interested in applying should call the city’s emergency assistance line at 904-630-2469.

People who have previously received the maximum of 18 months of assistance will not be eligible.

To qualify, renters must be Duval County residents who experienced financial hardship directly or indirectly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They must have a past-due rent or utility notice, an eviction notice; “unsafe or unhealthy living conditions” and a household income below 80% of the area median income.

The area median income is a sliding scale based on the number of people in a residence. For a two-person household, the area median income is $53,550. For a four-person household, it is $66,900.

The Emergency Rental Assistance dollars are part of a $6.37 million federal grant. The majority of those funds, $4.37 million, will go toward paying for short-term emergency rent and utilities assistance. The remaining $2 million will go toward reviving the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a COVID-era program that closed in December once funding ran out.

The two ZIP codes that had the highest number of residences that accepted assistance since October 2022 were both on the Westside.

The 32210 ZIP code, which includes Sweetwater and Confederate Point, has 86 households that have received a total of $351,640. Just south of that is the 32244 ZIP code, which includes McGirts Creek and the Wesconnett neighborhood. It has 71 residences that have received $388,072.84 this fiscal year.

In all, 721 residences received $3.24 million through the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program this fiscal year. A majority of that money, $3.09 million, has helped people pay rent, while the remaining funds, $153,232, have assisted utility bills.

Of the 44 ZIP codes in Duval County, 32 had a household that received funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Though the national inflation rate has fallen for eight straight months, prices for local necessities like utilities and gas are higher now than they were in March 2022.

In February, JEA announced it will raise its base rate charge from $5.50 per month to $15 per month in April — although the increase could be partly offset by lower fuel costs, the amount customers are charged to power electric plants. During Tuesday’s JEA board meeting, community advocates encouraged the board to be more cognizant of the effect its decisions have on low-income and fixed-income residents.