Miami-Dade County is home to nearly a half-million renters, thousands of whom are facing eviction because of job loss and financial hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Evictions are now being filed in circuit court against tenants who haven't paid rent, but a county moratorium still bans the final court judgments needed to formally remove tenants for all eviction cases filed after March 12, 2020.
As federal protections against eviction are set to expire at the end of January, housing-justice advocates in Miami and across the U.S. are taking part in demonstrations today to demand stronger protections for renters. The Miami Workers Center, an organization that advocates for the needs of Black and brown workers and other vulnerable communities, is calling on Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to extend the county's moratorium on final court judgments through the end of 2021.
Paola, a City of Miami resident, is among those who fear losing their housing. She tells New Times that she found an eviction notice on the door of her apartment on November 5, not long after she suffered a foot fracture, lost her job, and told her landlord that her rent payment would be late. Advocates with the Miami Workers Center knocked on her door to inform her of tenants' rights and of the local and federal protections against eviction.
"I had an incredible sense of relief," Paola says. "I thought I was going to end up in the street." (Paola asked to use a pseudonym because of her advocacy role and her fear of retaliation from her landlord.)
For now, Paola is still living in the apartment while her case is pending in county court. Since receiving help from the Miami Workers Center, she has begun volunteering for the group and goes door to door in her apartment complex to talk to her neighbors about eviction protections and financial assistance.
Paola says she believes there is a gap between the information and resources available for struggling tenants and renters' access to that information. She says many of the tenants in her complex have low-income jobs, work long hours to make ends meet, and often don't know where to turn for help if they're struggling.
Among people from other countries, "I think there's a mentality, a cultural issue, [where] they say, 'This is not in my upbringing,'" Paola says. "They say their government has never helped them in any way. So they come here with these ideas that there's nothing for them except working hard to get whatever they can get."
Miami Workers Center and other organizations, including the legal-aid group Community Justice Project and the Miami Tenants Union, have mobilized over the past several months to defend renters in eviction proceedings and to keep tenants housed. The groups offer a weekly virtual legal clinic on Tuesday evenings for people who may need to defend themselves in such proceedings.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says eviction moratoriums can be effective public-health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in that evictions can push people into family members' homes, into crowded shelters, or onto the street, which can in turn increase their risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the state will receive more than $850 million in rental assistance from the federal government, but it'll likely take weeks for money to make its way through the pipeline.
Florida lawmakers are also introducing bills in the state legislature for expanded tenant protections. State Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat who represents parts of St. Petersburg and Tampa, filed a bill requiring courts in certain judicial circuits to refer eviction cases to mediation and removing a requirement for a tenant fighting an eviction proceeding to deposit outstanding rent in a court registry. State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, also filed a bill that prohibits landlords from refusing to enter into a rental agreement with a prospective tenant because of a previous eviction during the pandemic.