POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Rent is due May 1 and for people laid off or furloughed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s one more stressor on a long list.

The city of Lakeland and Polk County are offering residents rental assistance.

Both municipalities are using funds from the Coronavirus Aid for Rent & Expenses (CARE) program.

Starting Monday at 8 a.m., Lakeland will launch its first rental assistance program.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook. So, if that’s any indication of what we’re going to see on Monday, our offices have better be ready,” said Kevin Cook, Lakeland’s communications director.

Applicants must apply online. For assistance by phone, call 863-834-CARE (2273).

“If you’ve done TurboTax this is very similar. It just takes you right through. The application’s going to be available on the city’s website and that’s lakelandgov.net,” said Cook.

Applicants must meet criteria to qualify:

  • Eligible recipients must be a City of Lakeland resident
  • Eligible recipients must be delinquent on rent and/or public utilities
  • Show verifiable loss of income related to COVID-19 impacts
  • Household income ≤ 80 percent AMI ($47,050 for a family of four)
  • Maximum award of three months or $5,000, whichever occurs first

“The entire county is going to be served, or eligible to be served, it just depends on how quickly the money runs out,” said Tamara West, the housing and neighborhood development manager.

Polk County launched its own rental assistance program on April 11. Its program covers everyone outside the Lakeland’s city limits.

“We received over 13,000 calls,” said West.

You can apply online, by phone or by mail. First step is to call the Homeless Coalition of Polk County at (863) 687-8386.

The county has similar criteria as Lakeland’s program without an income eligibility requirement.

“Technically if you’re laid off, you don’t have any income. We do have like a priority: the very low, the low and then people who would have not been eligible but now are eligible because they have no income,” said West.

Polk County has access to roughly $2 million for rental assistance, according to West.

“Capping it at $3,500 for up to 2 months but if we get some more funding, because there’s supposed to be a second wave of funds, so we might extend it if we have additional funding,” said West.