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Rental assistance program announced

Begins March 1; $23M in CARES funds available

By NATHAN MAYBERG - | Feb 18, 2021

Lee County has received a new round of funds for its LeeCARES rental and utilities assistance program for those who have suffered lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic and who fall below 80% of the area’s median income.

The new $23.3 million emergency rental assistance program will be launched March 1, Lee County Assistant County Manager Glen Salyer stated Tuesday at a meeting of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

The program will work similarly to previous programs the county ran last year through funding received through the CARES Act. Payments to landlords or utility companies will be made on behalf of residents who can show their income was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The payments can cover rent and utility payments as far back as a year as well as up to three months in advance.

The income eligibility is $38,600 for a single person, $44,100 for a two-person family, $49,600 for a three-person family and $55,100 for a four-person family.

“This should be a huge catalyst,” Lee County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Kevin Ruane said of the new funding, which derives from the second stimulus bill signed by former President Donald Trump and Congress in December. Ruane said Congress reacted in part to the large number of evictions that have arisen during the pandemic.

“The government is trying to get people back on their feet,” Ruane said.

Ruane said Lee County has a need for the assistance. “There’s certainly been a decent amount of calls we’ve received,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”

Salyer said an additional round of assistance could be on the way with a new stimulus bill being worked on by Congress.

Salyer said applicants would have to show proof of income. The county already has a waiting list for those looking for housing assistance, he added.

Applications can be filed at LeeFLCares.com.

The new program covers all of Lee County except for the city of Fort Myers which will be distributing rental assistance funds on its own.

Last year, the county received approximately $135 million through the CARES Act. More than $120 million of that was disbursed, according to records provided by the county. Lee County Government spokesperson Tim Engstrom said the $135 million was used or designated before the end of 2020.

According to records provided by the county, more than $120 million has been disbursed or approved as of Jan. 31.

Those funds included more than $28 million for rent, mortgage and utility assistance for individuals, and more than $14 million in business assistance.

Other allocations included more than $43 million for public safety, more than $10 million in municipal aid, more than $8 million in human services and food banks, more than $4.5 million for childcare support, more than $4 million in technology costs and about $2.4 million for personal protective equipment.