US Housing Secretary: Florida Could Get Help For Landlords, Tents For Homeless

Apr 1, 2020

For many, April 1 means the rent is due. But with record-setting jobless claims in Florida due to COVID-19, paying the rent this month – and the next few - may not be an option for some.

Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said on Wednesday he’s been in contact with housing authorities in Florida and across the country about temporary foreclosure and eviction moratoria.

“We’re very concerned about people being able to have a shelter over their heads,” he told WJCT News.

In Florida, eviction proceedings are on hold until at least April 17, according to Mayor Lenny Curry.

Gov. Ron DeSantis also affirmed his support of moratoria on evictions

Carson said he realizes postponing rent collection creates a domino effect for landlords, who likely have mortgages and other bills coming due.

“What we're encouraging them [landords] to do is to contact their [loan] servicer immediately, as soon as they see that there may be a shortfall, because we've been in contact with the servicers and, you know, making arrangements with the service system so that we can alleviate that,” Carson told WJCT News.

Related: HUD COVID-19 Information And Resources

Carson also pointed to good work being done in Jacksonville, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, citing The PLAYERS Championship for its food donation to the Sulzbacher Center, which helps Jacksonville’s homeless population.

He also sees the COVID-19 crisis as a potential opportunity to get a better handle on homelessness.

Carson said he would like to see some federal land designated as tent cities for the homeless.

“What we’re thinking about is, [in] some of the places that have a lot of homelessness, is actually putting up some of these structures,” he said. “These are huge, tent-like structures.”

He said they could be air-conditioned and heated and include individual cubicles, along with bathrooms and showers. He said the temporary field hospital in New York City is an example of what such a set up might look like.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Carson believes such facilities could also provide services to those who have addictions or mental illness, "because, you know, we don’t want to just maintain people in a position of dependency, you really want to elevate people to self-sufficiency,” he said.

Carson said he’s discussed the idea with U.S. Sen.Rick Scott (R-Florida) and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“The governor is very responsive,” he said. At this point the concept is in the early stages.

Carson is also advocating for a nationwide volunteer effort.

“Just before this coronavirus hit we were embarking upon a national plan to have every church, or every congregation, or every synagogue, adopt one homeless person or one homeless family with the goal of making them self-sufficient," he said.

He said religious communities could take the lead, but some larger projects might qualify for government money.

“If you got into something that was relatively substantial, like a multi-family complex that the church was building – then that could easily qualify for some federal support," he said.

Carson, who is also a neurosurgeon, stressed that the country must continue to practice good hygiene and social distancing.

“The 6-foot barrier is so important to maintain, and recognize that about a quarter of people who are infected with the virus are totally 100% asymptomatic, so they don't know that they have it. And that's why physical separation remains a very important factor and people need to understand that," Carson said.

While physical separation can be difficult, Carson said, “If we all do it, we will get through this much quicker and with much less fatality.”

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.