HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News at 10) – Families in Hillsborough County finding it difficult to pay rent now have access to help. A rental assistance program there just received more funding – to help those who were financially impacted due to the pandemic.

Hillsborough County is re-opening a portal set up to assist residents still facing those financial hardships.

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“Being in social services, affordable housing has always been an issue,” said Luisa Rodriguez-Zmoda with Social Services for Hillsborough County. “We have had a lot of people affected by Covid. That includes those who actually were sick, lost their jobs, and so those are the people that we’re trying to reach.”

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, OR R3, is funded by the federal government and aims to help those financially impacted by Covid-19. Starting Tuesday, residents needing help can apply.

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“The program is definitely needed and this department has definitely seen its share of people who are definitely in need of this assistance,” said Rodriguez-Zmoda. The program also assists with payments on TECO electric bills, past-due rent payments and those at risk of eviction.

“Due to the special circumstances that we’ve been through over the last couple of years, things have really increased as far as the need. People have been in a moratorium for a long time where they didn’t need to pay rent and now it’s catching up,” said Rodriguez-Zmoda,.

And they’re not the only department working to address the housing crisis in Tampa Bay. In January, City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced the expansion of the dare to own the dream program, offering assistance to first time homebuyers and down payment assistance to those who qualify.

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“Once the application is accepted and we receive it, then it’ll be assigned to someone who will be in touch with them directly if we need to be. We try to process the applications as quickly as possible,” she said.