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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

The Tampa Bay area is set to receive an additional $6.3 million in emergency rental assistance

Two workers sit in side-by-side cubicles operating phone lines at the Hillsborough County Social Services office.
Hillsborough County Social Services Department
Cristina Gonzalez and Tammy Flores operate the phones to assist renters applying for assistance in May 2022. To handle demand, the Hillsborough County social service department had around 60 call operators available 9 hours a day to assist applicants.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury announced the reallocation of $690 million in unused rental assistance funds to communities in the greatest need.

The greater Tampa Bay region is set to receive an additional $6.3 million in federal emergency rental assistance. The money is designed to assist tenants struggling to pay rent or those facing eviction.

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Department of Treasuryannounced the reallocation of $690 millionin funds under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA) to recipients with “high demonstrated need” and the “program capacity” to distribute the funds.

Among the 89 state and local grantees are Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, set to receive $2.5 million and $1.3 million, respectively, and the city of St. Petersburg, which is set to receive $2.5 million, according to data posted to the department website.

In 2021, Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa received a combined $89 million in federal rental assistance. By December of last year, only about $200,000 remained, according to county social services director Audrey Ziegler.

"At this point, the program is only open exclusively for any resident that's facing immediate eviction and already working with Bay Area Legal Services," Ziegler said.

The COVID-era funding financed Hillsborough County's rental assistance program and helped create a partnership with Bay Area Legal Services that offers free legal aid to tenants facing eviction.

Ziegler said her office approved around 22,000 applications for assistance in 2022. With many residents applying more than once, she estimates that around 11,000 households were assisted.

The online portal for Hillsborough residents to apply for assistance closed on Dec. 9, and is not expected to relaunch. As soon as March 1, Hillsborough residents seeking assistance will be directed to the call center at 813-272-5220 ext. 2.

"So we're going to be marketing this program a little bit different, so that it's not necessarily based on just the COVID impact, but where people are today, with the increase in rent and limited capacity for housing," Ziegler said.

In Pinellas County, between March 2021 and August 2022, more than 3,500 households were assisted through rental assistance funding, according to county spokesperson Kelsey Grentzer.

Staff is coordinating with the city of St. Petersburg and "evaluating options for most effectively using the funding," according to an emailed response. A decision is expected to be made within coming months.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.