JaxCares helps hundreds of residents, but more remain in limbo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than $2 million in JaxCares grant money has been paid out to help keep Jacksonville businesses and renters from being evicted. But hundreds more say they’re waiting on their landlords to uphold their end of the deal.

The doors to Bellwether restaurant in Downtown Jacksonville have been back open for months. But even since reopening, the restaurant’s owners say business is down — a fraction of what it was before the coronavirus pandemic reached Florida.

“We were in a position where we told our landlord we weren’t going to pay rent,” said Allan DeVault, managing partner for Black Sheep Restaurant Group, which includes Bellwether. “Coincidentally, the JaxCares thing came up a few weeks later.”

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Bellwether was among 31 commercial properties in Jacksonville that were approved for a piece of the program. So far, $2.1 million has been paid out on behalf of 545 renters and homeowners throughout the city.

The Jacksonville Bar Association partnered with the city to distribute over $6 million in aid through the CARES Act. But there are 782 people waiting on their landlord or mortgage company to fill out their part of the JaxCares application.

“One of the delays has been the tenant completes the application and we’re ready for the tenant and we get a kickback from the email address they provided, or the leasing agent is no longer there because they were let go because of Covid or some other reason,” said Michelle Barnett, president of the Jacksonville Bar Association.

Barnett says a wrong email addresses is one reason why a landlord or tenant may not have responded to the request. Yet some of the individuals who have contacted News4Jax say their landlord or mortgage company refuses to participate in the program.

Barnett speculated that it could be because they must agree to waive any past late fees, or they won’t receive grant money.

Asked why the financial aid couldn’t be given directly to tenants, Barnett said the program has to comply with guidelines laid out in the CARES Act. She said this funding is intended specifically for rent or mortgage relief.

“So if the tenant were given the money and decided to use it for food or taxes, for whatever the reason, maybe we have to have protections in place to make sure the money is actually used in back rent,” she said.

Barnett says if you are waiting for the mortgage company or landlord to respond, make sure the message has not gotten lost along the way. She said perhaps they don’t recognize your email address or your email got stuck in a spam folder.

“I would recommend reaching out to your landlord and say, ‘Hey, I’ve submitted everything, we can get this situation figured out, lets be proactive,’” she said.

If landlords or mortgage companies continue to refuse to do their part to participate, Barnett says their hands are tied because of the way the CARES Act was written.

While the application process for residents is closed, if you already have a case number and are having issues you can email info@jacksonvillecares.com or call 904-527-2506.

If you would like to apply for the JaxCares program for commercial properties, applications are open. Learn more here.

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