FL lawmakers call on Gov. DeSantis to block evictions as rent comes due for jobless citizens

FL lawmakers, clockwise, Rep. Shevrin Jones, Coral Springs Commissioner Joshua Simmons, Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana, Sen. Oscar Braynon and Rep. Anna Eskamani held an online press conference from their homes Tuesday to press the governor for a moratorium on evictions. Photo: Zoom screenshot

With monthly rent due on the 1st, Florida renters facing job layoffs and uncertainty about unemployment benefits don’t know if they are safe from eviction, a group of Florida lawmakers said Tuesday in an press conference webcast from their various homes.

They called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to order a halt to evictions, period. A Supreme Court order generally pausing evictions expires April 17.

“Our question is, what happens after that?” said Miami-area Rep. Shevrin Jones, who hosted the press conference. “We need to ensure people have a roof over their heads.”

Jones said DeSantis and President Donald Trump are conveying the false impression the pandemic will be short-lived and can be addressed with short-term solutions.

It’s not so, said Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami-Dade Democrat. “We’ve got to assume this will happen for quite a while,” Braynon said. “This crisis does not have a timetable.”

Braynon said most of the constituent calls he has received are about eviction fears and difficulties filing for unemployment benefits, including jobless applicants being unable to access the overloaded website run by the Department of Economic Opportunity. He described state government’s response to the pandemic-driven surge in job losses as “one of the most glaring” failures in the system.

“They’re nervous about how they’re going to pay rent this week,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, of Orlando, who stated the obvious conundrum: How can Floridians shelter at home during the coronavirus pandemic if they become homeless? “It’s incredibly dangerous,” she said.

Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana and Coral Springs City Commissioner Joshua Simmons joined in the call for an indefinite statewide moratorium on evictions.

“This needs to be implemented yesterday,” Javellana said.

“It’s a shame we have to ask,” Simmons said. “We all have a duty to help each other out.”

The lawmakers cited action in other states to protect renters by allowing them to forego payments after properly notifying their landlords. The tenants would be responsible for paying the rent due after the moratoriums are lifted. Evicting tenants worsens the pandemic, they stressed, because homeless people cannot quarantine effectively.