Hurricane María

Heart of Florida United Way announces housing program to help María evacuees

Hurricane María Housing Assistance Program will address critical barrier to securing stable housing in Central Florida.

The Heart of Florida United Way is launching a program designed to help working families who have relocated to Central Florida due to Hurricane María overcome one of the barriers to securing stable housing.

The nonprofit witnessed first-hand the barriers to affordable housing for Hurricane María evacuees in Central Florida, through its work at the Orlando International Airport Welcome Center set up right after the storm hit, and then the Multi-Agency Resource Center, which closed March 30, it confirmed.

United Way’s Hurricane María Housing Assistance Program provides one-time assistance for working families to get over the barrier of first and last months’ rent and utility deposits required to secure an affordable rental unit in Central Florida.

This program specifically targets those displaced by Hurricane María who fall into the ALICE population — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. On average, these upfront costs can range from $2,500 to $3,500, making the transition from hotel to more stable housing very challenging.

“For many evacuees who have been able to find consistent employment, paying the monthly rent is not the immediate challenge to securing an affordable unit — it’s the upfront deposits,” said Jeff Hayward, president of Heart of Florida United Way.

“If that initial deposit is the only thing keeping a family devastated by Hurricane María from leading a more stable life in Central Florida, we want to help them overcome that barrier,” he said.

To qualify for the Hurricane María Housing Assistance Program, the following criteria must be met:

  • Documentation of FEMA status in relation to Hurricane María
  • Sustainable household income to cover rent and basic needs after receiving one-time assistance
  • Identification of an affordable rental housing option in or around Orange, Seminole or Osceola counties
  • Documentation of current residence in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties

To apply for the Housing Assistance Program individuals must call United Way’s 2-1-1 for assistance. Individuals can access 2-1-1 by phone, email, chat or text (just text your zip code to 898-211). 2-1-1 is free and completely confidential, available 24/7.

Heart of Florida United Way has partnered with Catholic Charities to provide additional wrap-around support to families who qualify for the program to ensure they are stable and remain housed, the nonprofit confirmed.

Over 371,000 passengers have traveled from Puerto Rico to or through Florida, according to Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.

Since beginning operations, the Orlando International Airport and the Multi-Agency Resource Center assistance centers have seen more than 34,000 people and Heart of Florida United Way has assisted more than 1,034 by providing emergency housing assistance.

More than 2,999 hotel nights have been booked through Heart of Florida United Way for FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program, the nonprofit confirmed.

The ALICE Report in 2017 stated that Central Florida has a shortage of 74,457 affordable housing units, these numbers reported before the arrival of evacuees in need of housing.

Although available inventory of affordable housing will remain a challenge, Heart of Florida United Way will continue to advocate for the thousands of evacuees trying to start a new life in Central Florida, it stated.

“Our community has seen an influx of thousands as a result of Hurricane María,” added Hayward. “Among them are stories of heart-breaking adversity, unimaginable tragedy and devastating circumstances. But with our community’s support, we are rewriting those stories into remarkable journeys of resilience, determination, courage and hope for tomorrow.”

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