PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Rent is skyrocketing across the Tampa Bay area. 8 is On Your Side to help families pay their rent and stay in their homes. Most bay area counties have money you can access but it can be tricky to get your hands on the funds.

Counties have set up different ways to distribute these federal dollars. While the program rollout differs, the rules to getting the cash are essentially the same.

As we all cope with a spike in COVID-19 cases, many bay area families are also facing another threat: the potential for eviction.

“People are becoming very stressed out about the rent,” said Marcy Esbjerg, the Pasco County Community Development Director for the H.E.A.R.T. program. “Right now, the biggest source of assistance we have is the assistance that has come down in the American Rescue Plan.”

In Pasco County, the Help with Emergency Assistance Relief for Tenants (H.E.A.R.T.) program can pay up to 15 months of bills for qualifying renters.

The county received nearly $17 million in emergency rental assistance funding from the U.S. Treasury. Esbjerg explained what you need to do to access the help in Pasco and beyond.

First, you have to prove you make less than 80% of the Area Median Income. It varies from county to county but for example, in Pasco, a family of two is only eligible for help if they make less than $45,000 a year.

Next, you must show a negative economic impact from COVID-19.

“It could be people that are now paying more for food because of COVID-19 to people who have lost income,” Esbjerg said.

The biggest hurdle for families is gathering the proper paperwork, we’re told.

“It is a rental program so it always starts with a valid lease,” Esbjerg added.

In addition to a valid lease, you need a government-issued photo I.D. for all adults in the household and identification for the children in the household; pay stubs or tax returns/W2’s; landlord information; and other documents.

Once the application is approved, we’re told the county pays landlords within a few weeks.

“Just to be patient. There’s a lot of money out there,” Esbjerg said. “We want to make sure that people can stay housed and remain housed.”

The first round of funding in Pasco has already been distributed.

“Once the board of county commissioners approve it, we will open up our second round of funding which will probably begin around the beginning of February,” Esbjerg said.

To see if your county has received emergency rental assistance funding, click on this link from the Florida Department of Children and Families.