Miami to receive $14 million from federal government to help people pay rent

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has awarded the city of Miami $14 million to help people pay rent and utilities under a federal COVID-19 relief program.

Congress approved a $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus bill in late December. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced the $14 million allocation for Miami during his annual state of the city address in which he acknowledged the need for immediate relief for suffering Miamians while forecasting economic recovery through attracting new and existing businesses to thrive in Miami.

Commissioners are expected to discuss the details and vote on a process to disburse the money at a future commission meeting at City Hall, likely in early February. Past rent assistance programs have been limited to people who live inside Miami city limits.

“We will work with the commission at the next commission meeting to ensure our residents receive immediate relief,” Suarez told a few dozen politicians and community leaders gathered for his address at Smathers Plaza Apartments, a public housing complex for seniors in Little Havana.

Unlike the first round of CARES Act funding, population caps didn’t bar Miami from receiving the federal help in this round of COVID aid. Miami-Dade’s county government is receiving $60 million in rental aid under the latest federal aid bill, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced last week.

Under the program, the U.S. Treasury defines an “eligible household” as a renter household that has income at or below 80% of the area median, and one or more individuals in that household qualifies for unemployment or has had their income reduced during the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus interrupted daily life in early 2020, Miami city administrators have twice distributed direct assistance to help renters pay their landlords. In May 2020, the city used $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid renters. In September, commissioners redirected $300,000 from an untapped grant program to help people avoid eviction.

In his speech, Suarez addressed the harsh reality brought on by COVID-19 and the economic downturn that followed widespread commercial closures. He said the relief dollars have helped about 690 households.

Under separate programs, 100 households have received help with mortgage payments and nearly 100 businesses got aid to weather the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has compelled us to design targeted relief that opens, activates and stabilizes our economy,” the mayor said. “Over the past year, Miami has run three targeted business assistance programs for Miami businesses that suffered a loss of revenue due to COVID-19, helping 92 businesses to date, with just over $1.3 million combined in assistance expended.”

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City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez delivers the state of the city address at Smathers Plaza in Miami on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Al Diaz ADIAZ@MIAMIHERALD.COM

ECONOMIC RECOVERY

In the face of a pandemic entering a phase where the hope tied to vaccinations is balanced with anxiety from a still-spreading virus, Suarez dedicated part of his address to getting back to business.

The mayor framed economic recovery for Miami in the context of his recent efforts to attract tech firms to South Florida, spurred by viral tweets and many media appearances where he’s invited executives to have coffee with him on Dinner Key. He announced multiple initiatives to attract businesses to relocate to Miami and to help upstarts open new businesses.

“Now is the time not only to survive, but to thrive,” Suarez said.

He focused on new business creation as a means to bounce back. He announced the launch of eStart, a mobile-friendly platform that allows people to apply for city businesses licenses from their smartphone or computer. The application’s designers aim to walk new proprietors through the steps necessary to open a new business in the city while reducing unnecessary duplication in City Hall — the forms for a certificate of use and business tax receipt have been merged into one form, for example.

“A lot of hard work by our team went into this effort and there’s more to come, as our aim is to make continuous improvements to eStart,” said Mike Sarasti, chief information officer for the city. “Future iterations of eStart will include special guides such as, ‘Moving your tech business to Miami,’ ‘Available incentives,’ and more.”

Suarez also announced several new task forces that will focus on boosting education for locals to prepare for tech jobs, attracting businesses to downtown, streamlining government regulations and pushing new firms to hire local residents. These groups will be led by commissioners.

Author:

Miami Herald Logo

Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.
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Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.
 

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