City Council Bills Would Provide Mortgage, Rent Relief And Election Preparation Money

Sep 14, 2020

A pair of emergency COVID-19 relief bills could provide housing assistance to families in Jacksonville, and give the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office money to better prepare for the November election. 

The first bill - 2020-555 - would appropriate roughly $2.6 million to the city to provide money for eligible households experiencing struggles due to COVID-19. 

According to the bill’s language, the help could come in the form of mortgage and rent assistance payments, similar to the previous rounds of mortgage, rent and utility relief doled out by the city in previous months. 

According to Thomas Daly, the Chief of Housing and Community Development for the city, families will be able to get up to $5,000 to help them catch up on mortgage or rent payments. 

Daly said it will be limited to families whose median income is near the bottom in the local area.

“That is, I think, $60,000 for a family of four,” Daly said. “There's a table that'll be on the application for people to be able to judge whether they qualify or not.” 

The money the city is receiving for these bills is separate from the $167 million the city has already received in CARES act funding. The $2.6 million is coming from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC). 

All counties throughout Florida are receiving a similar type of funding. One option the FHFC allows is for the money to be used to help with home projects or construction that couldn’t be completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, families in Jacksonville won’t have that option.

“We think it will be difficult to find individuals who are in that situation where they didn't have some rehabilitation or other improvements necessary in life safety improvements to their house because of COVID-19,” Daly said. 

All funds need to be used by the end of year, or they will need to be returned to the federal government.

Applications will open up on the City of Jacksonville’s Housing and Community Development Division website once they become available, although people can call (904) 630-CITY to be put on the waiting list.  

The second bill - 2020-556 - would give the Duval Supervisor of Elections nearly $1 million to use toward coronavirus-related preparations in November’s election, while $826,000 would be from CARES Act funding. Another $165,000 would come from the city’s general fund. 

The money would be used to “prevent, prepare form and respond to the coronavirus as it affects the 2020 federal elections,” according to the bill’s language. 

“This is gonna make a huge impact,” said Chief Elections Officer Robert Phillips. “Not only can we use it for PPE for poll workers and for voters, but we can also use it for additional postage for our vote-by-mail ballots, because we're anticipating such an increase.”

The money can also be used for poll worker recruitment, among other necessities.

“Basically anything that's election-related, and could be used to ease the COVID burden, we can use these funds for,” Phillips said.

The Duval Supervisor of Elections office has seen some COVID-19 outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic. During the March primary, the office confirmed that a poll worker tested positive for COVID-19.

While no poll workers or voters tested positive for COVID-19 in connection to the August primary, an election call center was shut down after “several” employees tested positive. 

“We can't go out and construct a new call center or a new building out of scratch, but what we can do is buy more equipment, so we can utilize more space that we already have, like maybe more computers and laptops and things like that, to spread people out further,” Phillips said. 

Both pieces of legislation passed a pair of committees Monday, and can be heard by the full council as soon as September 22 if they pass two more committees on Tuesday.  

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.