Faced with homelessness, people living in Tampa Bay hotels are denied housing assistance | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Photo by Luke Strickland

Teuta Sadiku speaks about her housing issues at a St. Pete People’s Council meeting last Saturday.

Teuta Sadiku left her St. Petersburg motel and waited for her bus in the chilly morning yesterday. She looked at the wrist she had broken when she fell in her room and begged God to heal it faster. She has to work if she wants to stay in her motel room, which is essentially an efficiency, with a kitchen and stove, and costs $1,000 a month.

The 48-year-old prayed that her job interview at a St. Pete Beach restaurant would go well. On the bus, she met a man who was nice to her. When she got off the bus to go to her interview, she thought, “Maybe I should have asked him if he could help me pay my rent?

Sadiku lives on an untraditional weekly lease and finds herself stranded without emergency rental assistance during the ongoing pandemic. Federal Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP) guidelines technically allow funding for people like Sadiku, but Pinellas County has decided not to distribute those funds to those in her situation. Her application was denied after the St. Pete Tenants Union (SPTU) helped her complete it.

Despite living at the motel for a year and a half, Sadiku is now struggling to survive after the denial. She is looking for jobs, hoping to earn next week’s rent.

“I really want to work, but until I find a job, I just need a little help not to lose my apartment, otherwise things will get worse for me,” she said. at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Click to enlarge Sadiku sent CL a selfie from his apartment.  - TEUTA SADIKU

Teuta Sadiku

Sadiku sent CL a selfie from his apartment.

Pinellas County said people in Sadiku’s situation aren’t getting help because they want to use the funding to focus on traditional tenant types.

“While [federal] Treasury guidelines allow emergency rental assistance programs to cover hotel or motel expenses for eligible households, Pinellas County ERAP does not cover hotel or motel expenses for the moment,” the Pinellas County public information coordinator told CL. “This allows us to focus our ERAP resources on preventing evictions and keeping residents in their homes. »

Initially, federal guidelines stated that ERAP funds could not be used for non-traditional leases, but the wording of the guidelines was later changed to include hotels and motels. Still, Pinellas said he wants to focus on traditional housing. So far, the county has distributed $20.3 million in ERAP funding, with the city of St. Petersburg adding $10.1 million.

Raymond Holmes III finds himself in a situation similar to that of Sadiku. He rents at the Whitney Hotel in downtown St. Pete for $800 a month because he lives on a tight Social Security income. HWe were surprised by the rejection of his application, after the SPTU helped him to apply. At 69, becoming homeless would be hard on him.

He moved into the Whitney in December after being suddenly evicted from the Stanton Inn, a building being demolished for the expansion of the boutique Cordova Inn Hotel. During the mass eviction, a neighbor of Holmes died while moving.

Holmes walked out with his health intact and went to The Whitney, as it was on the same block as The Stanton. Even though the Whitney is technically called a hotel, it certainly isn’t. This is a living situation closer to single bedroom occupancy (SRO) units – small furnished rooms typically aimed at low-income tenants.

“I think the economic expansion in the area is great and all, but I don’t know how long it will be before the Whitney becomes a boutique hotel,” Holmes told CL. “If there is going to be development, the city should also focus on preserving and building more ORS for ordinary people, and making sure that everyone who needs help renting the get.”

Across the bay in Hillsborough County, the situation with ERAP assistance is the same, but the county has not confirmed its reasoning behind refusing people with non-traditional leases. To date, Hillsborough has reached its ERAP funding limit, after committing more than $54 million in financial assistance to residents and homeowners. The program has approved funding for over 13,000 applicants.

Hillsborough County’s senior media relations strategist said the charity Metropolitan Ministries (MM) was helping with motel rental assistance, but did not know details of how long it was helping tenants . On the Metro website, there are applications for emergency housing and affordable housing, but the links to emergency rental assistance simply point to county websites. CL has contacted MM for more information, but needs a response.

Along with ordinary Americans who find themselves on the brink of homelessness, refugees often end up in non-traditional housing. Last year, after the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, refugees found themselves in Tampa Bay living in apartments and Airbnbs while waiting to find traditional housing. An Afghan refugee told the Tampa Bay Weather that although landlords may be hesitant to sign a lease with refugees, they are “hard-working, highly skilled people who make excellent tenants.”

And as the pandemic destroys people’s lives, motels and other non-traditional accommodations are increasingly becoming a last resort for people not just in Tampa Bay, but across the state.

Last September in Osceola County, an hour east of Tampa Bay, Spectrum News 13 reported that a single-parent family of four ended up living in a hotel last year as the father tried to support the family while driving Uber. In this same county, several families living in motels found their lives in chaos after they were denied ERAP funding due to their non-traditional leases.

Yet in other parts of the country like Vermont, those on the edge of homelessness can use PARE funding to keep motel roofs above their heads.

Back in St. Pete, Teuta Sadiku wonders if she’ll be able to pay next month’s rent on her apartment and if homelessness is in her future.

“I’m like a lot of people who are struggling right now,” she said.

Every day at her motel, she takes her Bible in her hands and prays for things to change.

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