FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/CNN) - With coronavirus related economic hardships continuing, and eviction
protection set to expire, it could get much worse for many Floridians in the coming weeks.
More than 14 million American households are currently at risk of eviction and have an estimated $25 billion in rental debt, according to a report by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm. And 4.9 million of them are likely to receive eviction notices in January after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium expires on December 31, Stout found.
Tenants in Florida are among those at the highest risk of eviction, according to Benfer, in part due to the lack of tenant protections like rent control and late-fee restrictions. More than a million renters in the Sunshine State have "slight or no confidence" in their ability to pay next month's rent.
In Broward County, evictions are expected to triple during the first three months of 2021, from 5,000 to 15,000, according to Administrative Judge Robert Lee of Broward County Court.
With all court proceedings held virtually, Lee said, he has told his team of judges "we're going to have to roll up our sleeves."
To meet the skyrocketing demand, judges in the criminal, medical, and insurance claims divisions are being diverted to hear eviction cases, said Lee. He is also boosting support staff and mediation teams who offer free services paid for by the county.
"It's a strange time for us," he said.
Pro bono attorneys are bracing for what could be a "tsunami" of eviction cases in southeast Florida in the new year, says Patrice Paldino, executive director of Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida.
Many tenants think they have eviction issues but once they consult attorneys, Paldino says, they realize they also have garnishments, credit card debt, and other collections. Some of her current eviction clients are seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.
"I believe housing is health care and you have to keep people in their homes for their mental, physical and emotional health," Paldino said.
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Paldino has hired three extra attorneys. Due to the surging pandemic, she deploys some of them in the community in a "mobile justice" van retrofitted into a law office, with a walk-up window. Lawyers and clients are separated by acrylic glass for safety.
In Miami-Dade County, homelessness is on the rise, according to Ron Book, chair of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. The call volume at Camillus House, the trust's shelter, increased from an average of 800 calls a month to 1,200 last month.
"I'm deathly concerned," Book said.
He fears the "floodgates" of homelessness will open and thousands of people, including senior citizens, will be on the streets once the CDC moratorium ends.
More than 6,400 evictions were filed from March 13 to November 30 in Miami-Dade County, according to a county courthouse spokesperson. Book estimates those evictions could impact about 18,000 people.
"The fact is that we're going to lose lives in a massive potential proportion if we don't find a way to solve keeping people in their homes," Book said.
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