Housing stability is key to the social fabric of the community.
That’s why Tim Coop, Tampa Bay regional president for Hancock Whitney, said the bank donated $110,00 to three local nonprofits that are working to help tenants facing eviction amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Hancock Whitney donated $50,000 to Bay Area Legal Services and $50,000 to Metropolitan Ministries, along with $10,000 for Turning Points, a nonprofit that addresses homelessness in Bradenton.
Bay Area Legal Services will use the funding to represent families in need, including those that receive eviction notices. Metro Ministries will provide 100 families in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties with $500 rent assistance payments. Turning Points will help those in need with rent and utility payments.
“Our bank is dependent on the health of the communities that we do business in,” said Tim Coop, Tampa Bay regional president for Hancock Whitney, and a 31-year veteran of the local banking industry. “It’s not only the right thing to do but when people start losing their homes it loosens the social fabric of the community and over the long term that’s not good for business.”
The funding comes as the area faces a rental housing crisis, said Lisa Brody, managing attorney at the St. Petersburg office of Bay Area Legal Services, one of the nonprofits that received funding from Hancock Whitney
Eviction notices have been filed in both Hillsborough and Pinellas courts, even though Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in April. Tuesday night, he extended that moratorium to Aug. 1.
Between April 1 and June 5, 192 eviction cases were filed in Pinellas County, with hundreds more expected to be filed once the moratorium ends. Although the courts have not acted on those notices, once they do act the process is very quick, Brody said.
“Once a tenant is actually served with a complaint for eviction, there’s a five business day window for the tenant to respond in court. In Florida, it’s not only a matter of the response, but the tenant is responsible to either deposit the full amount of the money that is alleged owed in the complaint into the court registry or to file what is called a motion to determine. That’s why it’s important for individuals and families served during or after the moratorium to reach out and seek legal assistance so they can be guided on how to respond,” she said.
Bay Area Legal Services is seeing a direct correlation between the pandemic and the housing crisis. Those who have contacted the nonprofit for help have either lost their job or had a reduction in income, resulting in them being unable to pay rent.
“Even pre-COVID, we were in an affordable housing crisis. We already have about 75,000 to 80,000 households already struggling to pay rent. So any reduction in their income will put them in that cycle to where they won’t be able to make it up,” she said.
Housing stability is important so that children can stay in school and so that workers dependent on public transportation can keep their jobs. Instability creates more stress and can lead to an increase in domestic violence. The eviction crisis also will have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, Brody said.
The Hancock Whitney donation will provide Bay Area Legal Services with the resources it needs to provide representation to families facing eviction and to negotiate repayment agreements.
It’s the only donation the nonprofit has received from a bank.
Hancock Whitney (Nasdaq: HWC), a 100-year-old company headquartered in Gulfport, Mississippi and with offices and financial centers in five Gulf Coast states, has a history of standing by the community when times are tough, Coop said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to have economic implications, Hancock Whitney initially focused on helping businesses with the Payroll Protection Program. “But we also pretty quickly realized we had an obligation to try to help with donations … Hunger and housing seemed to be where folks didn’t have a safety net or much of a cushion and could be pretty severely impacted,” he said
The donation to Bay Area Legal Services is to ensure that tenants understand their rights, the legal process and how to navigate the system to get the best outcome, Coop said.
“The eviction process is something that stays on the court record and can have long-term ramifications in terms of an individual’s ability to rent space in the future, or even to buy a house longer term,” Coop said.
Hancock Whitney also donated another $110,000 to local organizations targeting hunger and community health, including St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Meals on Wheels, PLUS of Manatee, All Faiths Food Bank of Sarasota, kidsPack of Lakeland and an additional donation to Metropolitan Ministries.
The donations are part of the bank’s broader $2.5 million community relief investment announced in April to help people in some of the Gulf South’s most vulnerable neighborhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hancock Whitney is one of the larger retail banks in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area, with seven branches and about $600 million in deposits, according to the most recent report available from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Individuals seeking assistance may contact:
Bay Area Legal Services https://bals.org/get-help/landlord-tenant-eviction
Metropolitan Ministries https://www.metromin.org/covid-19response/
Turning Point https://tpmanatee.org/rent-and-utility-assistance/