Gov. Doug Ducey will extend eviction protections for tenants affected by COVID-19 through Oct. 31, the Republican leader announced Thursday.
The delay isn’t as generous as the one sought by housing advocates, who wanted protections for renters through the end of the year. Beginning Aug. 21, tenants also will need to show proof they’ve applied for rental assistance.
But the extension will give tenants who’ve lost jobs or become ill an additional three months to catch up on payments and seek community assistance — something Ducey called “the right thing to do for public health and our economy.”
The announcement comes as the state continues to grapple with one of the worst COVID-19 spikes in the country, which has infected more than 134,000 Arizonans and killed at least 2,492.
Though Ducey noted small successes in the fight against the virus — such as dips in positive test results and COVID-related emergency room visits — he stressed the state was nowhere near ready to take a “victory lap.”
Applauding what he described as widespread compliance with local mask mandates, he urged Arizonans to treat face coverings, physical distancing and other precautions as their “new normal.” The state will begin making free cloth masks available to Arizonans who are 65 or older or medically vulnerable starting Friday, he said.
“I really want to ask people to get their heads around that, that this is going to be a challenge that’s going to be on going for the foreseeable future,” he said at his afternoon news briefing.
“The better decisions that we make now, the better habits and discipline and rigor that we have, the more success, the more people that we will save and protect around the coronavirus.”
Reprieve for tenants, disappointment for landlords
Ducey announced the eviction protection extension just six days before it was set to expire. Without it, more than 5,000 new evictions were expected to be filed in Maricopa County by the end of July.
Renters throughout the pandemic have fallen behind on payments after layoffs, pay cuts and mounting medical bills. More than 330,000 Arizonans have received unemployment insurance benefits to date, and checks are expected to drop to $240 or less after the weekly $600 federal benefit runs out on July 25.
Access the digital replica of USA TODAY and more than 200 local newspapers with your subscription.Read Now in the e-Edition
In addition to the extension on eviction protections, the governor announced an additional $650,000 for Community Action Agencies to pay additional staff to process rental assistance for those in need.
“On behalf of those in the community struggling financially at this incredibly difficult time, and for those who signed our letter requesting an extension of the moratorium, I am personally grateful for the governor’s very positive response to this issue,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, a nonprofit Arizona group working to end poverty.
Wildfire also is managing Phoenix’s new eviction-prevention program, one of two launched this week in Maricopa County to provide a combined $50 million worth of renter and mortgage-aid programs.
“This will give us much-needed time to connect many of those individuals who need assistance to the resources that are available at this time,” Zwick said.
Property owners were less enthusiastic about the extension, despite a new $5 million foreclosure prevention program the governor said would “provide targeted relief to homeowners who rely on income from tenants.”
“We’re not disappointed because we’re heartless or because we want to see anyone evicted during a pandemic,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association. Rather, the organization is concerned property owners will now go seven months “with no income to speak of in the form of rent.”
“These property owners — including thousands of mom-and-pop rental owners who rely on rent to make ends meet — still have bills to pay, including loans, payroll, property taxes, utilities and maintenance costs,” she said. “The bills haven’t stopped. Only rent payments have.”https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pphx/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html
Future of classroom instruction, unemployment payments unclear
Renters may have walked away from the news briefing with more certainty, but those looking for an update on K-12 learning didn’t.
Ducey had no update for the teachers and education leaders who’ve increasingly called for clearer metrics to better determine when it might be safe to return to classrooms.
The governor, who has delayed in-person classroom instruction until Aug. 17, said he expected to provide a detailed update next week. In the meantime, some districts have pushed the start of in-person instruction back to October.
“Our kids are going to be learning in the fall,” Ducey said. “We’re going to do our best to conduct the most positive educational year that we can, and I’ll be providing the most specific guidance that I can.”
The governor also had few specifics when asked about the upcoming, drastic cut in federal unemployment benefits.
Democratic lawmakers have called on Ducey to take steps at the state level, such as increasing the maximum weekly payment and amount of money Arizonans can earn from part-time work while still receiving full unemployment benefits. Instead, he pointed to ongoing talks of another relief package in Congress.
“We’re going to advocate for what’s in the best interest of Arizona and Arizonans,” he said.
“What we want to do is make sure that people don’t fall through the cracks.”
AUTHOR: Maria Polletta and Catherine Reagor