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Tampa tenant facing eviction stays put, fearing landlord won’t let him back in after storm passes

With Hurricane Ian bearing down on Florida, Rep. Val Demings urged Congress to protect people from evictions and foreclosures during natural disasters.

TAMPA, Fla. — With Hurricane Ian bearing down on Florida, Kenny Lofton, 63, faced two equally awful scenarios Wednesday — being evicted from his apartment by his landlord or being evicted by the storm.

Lofton said he knew staying put could be dangerous but feared leaving his apartment in North Tampa for a shelter because he might not have a home to come back to when the hurricane finally passes.

Kenny Lofton, 63, of Tampa, Fla.
Kenny Lofton, 63, of Tampa, Fla.Courtesy Kenny Lofton

“I’m home packing my belongings,” Lofton said in an interview. “I have no clue where to go.”

Lofton is one of the more than 2 million people in Florida who were asked to pack up and evacuate before Hurricane Ian made landfall south of Tampa. But he is also facing eviction Friday because, with rising prices, his government housing assistance is no longer enough to pay the rent.

“I’m trying to find something at this moment,” Lofton said when he was asked whether he had been looking for a new apartment. “It’s kind of hard right now, but I’m hanging in there.”

Lofton is hardly alone. Thousands of Floridians, many of them on fixed incomes, have been struggling to stay in their homes as rents have rapidly risen in recent years.

And in cities like Tampa, the demand for affordable housing is high but the supply is limited.

Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat from Orlando who is running for the Senate, called on Congress this week to pass the Federal Disaster Housing Stability Act "to protect Floridians from foreclosures and evictions during and after natural disasters like the impending Hurricane Ian."

“Disasters happen," Demings said. "But evictions during a disaster don’t need to. We should not allow Americans to go homeless due to financial distress during an emergency."

Lofton, a former chef who has a medical condition that makes it difficult for him to work, said he receives a monthly federal check for $1,178 that is used to cover rent, utilities, groceries and other bills.

But the rent on his apartment in the Mirela North complex that has been his home for four years jumped in May to $1,200, from $980. And he was told the complex would no longer be accepting Section 8 federal housing vouchers.

“One of the reasons that housing voucher holders are unable to use those vouchers is because the value of their vouchers has not kept up with rapid rent increases,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said recently.

Lofton said he got multiple extensions from the landlord, during which he tried and failed to find another place to rent. He said he has no wife or children and not much in the way of family, either.

And now he has three days to leave his apartment.

“How do they expect people to move?" Lofton said. "It’s not fair at all."

There was no answer when NBC News called the Mirela management office to see whether it still intends to evict Lofton on Friday.

So, Lofton said, he woke up Wednesday and thanked God for another day. But he also prayed for a place to sleep during — and after — the storm.

CORRECTION (Sept. 28, 2022, 8:25 p.m. ET): A headline on a previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a U.S. House member from Florida. She is Val Demings, not Demmings.