As South Florida continues to reel from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, one local leader is warning residents about another crisis on the horizon.
“There is a crisis looming greater than the pandemic itself,” said Ron Book, who heads the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. “It’s January. It’s February. It's coming and it's playing in a theater near you and it's a horror show.”
Book and other homeless advocates are working to deal with what they say are a massive number of incoming evictions.
“It’s affected [us] really really bad because I lose my mom with the COVID," said Karla Fuentes. "I lose my job you know. We need the help.”
The federal moratorium extension heading off evictions now runs through the end of the month. In Broward, 6,400 evictions have been filed since the pandemic started, and more than 7,000 in Miami Dade.
“The problem is that represents over 21,000 individuals," Book said. "You could image that many, or even a small fraction of that many, being homeless overnight. We don’t have shelters and we don’t have housing for those people.”
Book’s team has been working to identify those at risk of losing a place to live and working with landlords.
In Broward, a similar effort is underway.
“There will be an initial kind of surge of these cases filed,” said the Honorable Jack Tuter, the Chief Judge for the 17th Judicial District which covers Broward County.
Tuter told us the courts and county are making headway and that is providing some optimism.
“We’ve set up a free mediation program right now for landlords and tenants to try mediate their dispute and come to a resolution," he said.
"The County Manager contacted me recently and said the county still has some CARES funds available to help tenants who are far behind in the rears if they can negotiate a deal with their landlord to get them out of this predicament."
Landlords tell us they too have to pay their bills.
Tuter said, “I think many people don’t realize  most of these evictions relate to units that are 10 or less, meaning it's mostly mom-or-pop people who are renting these places and they have not been collecting rent, and they still have to pay their mortgage, and their insurance, and their taxes."
"It’s troublesome for both sides of this and there are not going to be any easy answers.”
Across South Florida, there’s an effort to find attorneys to work for free to help tenants and landlords.
Tuter told us that some landlords aren’t even coming to the court yet and are simply waiting for leases to expire and request their property back not for lack of payment but for trespassing.