On May 15, 2020, Constable David Lester serves an eviction notice at an apartment in east Phoenix.
Arizona Democratic lawmakers are asking Gov. Doug Ducey to extend a statewide eviction moratorium to help tenants who are struggling financially because of the pandemic.
The governor in late March declared landlords could continue asking courts to evict tenants for late rent, but constables must delay enforcement and allow renters to stay in their homes if they or a household member’s health or finances had been affected by COVID-19.
The Republican governor’s moratorium is scheduled to end July 22.
Arizona Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said lawmakers are worried that homelessness will surge once the order expires, as months of rent come due for thousands of tenants across the state.
Many won’t be able to afford what they owe, Engel said, given that unemployment claims keep rising and state rental assistance has failed to arrive.
Since March, 962 Arizonans out of more than 16,000 who have applied to the Arizona Department of Housing for up to $2,000 per month in rental assistance have been approved, according to a weekly report the agency recently began posting on its website.
That’s about 6% of applications approved in nearly three months. Another 48% have not been processed, 40% have been deemed incomplete, 3% have been withdrawn and 2% have been denied, the report said.
Pima County recently added 25 temporary staff to assist with rent relief applications, Carol Ditmore, director of the Arizona Department of Housing, told lawmakers in a June 5 letter.
“We want to assure you the Arizona Department of Housing shares your concern about getting these resources out to those in need of this assistance and has been continually reassessing program policies and operations to make changes where necessary since the program was announced on March 30,” Ditmore wrote.
What happens if an eviction bubble bursts?
If thousands of Arizonans lose their homes in the middle of summer as new coronavirus cases climb, lives will be at risk, Engel said.
“There’s no good time to evict people, but this is an especially bad time,” she said. “There are thousands of people potentially being pushed out to the street, so we’ve got to do something.”
The letter signed by 33 Democratic legislators asks Ducey to extend his order by six months, through Jan. 22.
“Unless you extend your Executive Order, we fear that relief agencies will be unable to handle the sheer number of persons who will need housing assistance,” the letter said. “Because many of these persons will themselves be sick with COVID-19 or be caring for a family member sick with the virus, to evict them from their homes and put them on the street or in congregate facilities provided by relief agencies will endanger the lives of others.”
Landlords feel financial squeeze
Landlords are hurting too, the legislators acknowledge.
“We recognize that landlords, especially small landlords, are reliant upon rent to keep in business,” the letter said.
One way to help is to speed up the state’s Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance program, the lawmakers wrote.
Although the Department of Housing recently made changes to streamline the rent relief program, lawmakers suggested further reforms:
Stop counting a stimulus check as income, since it is a one-time payment, often needed for other bills.
Eliminate the requirement for a tenant to contribute 30% of their household income to the monthly rent, since many need any remaining income for other needs.
Allow tenants to apply for six months of assistance at a time, eliminating the monthly paperwork burden for the applicant as well as the state.
Allow tenants to self-report income, given that in many circumstances, documentary proof may not be available, such as if an employer suddenly closed permanently.
The Arizona Multihousing Association, which represents landlords, is pressing the state to get rid of its current application.
Instead, they claim the Department of Housing should approve aid for any tenant who follows the process to receive an eviction delay under Ducey’s order:
Written notice to the landlord that they or a household member has been impacted by COVID-19.
Documentation of the impact, such as pay stubs or a doctor’s note, or a written explanation if the tenant cannot obtain documents.
“We will continue to advocate for a simple solution that would make all the difference: Arizona residents who qualify for the eviction delay established by Gov. Ducey’s order or the eviction moratorium established by the federal CARES Act should automatically qualify for rental assistance,” association CEO Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus said. “That would end the red tape and bureaucracy that continues to hurt struggling renters and struggling property owners.”
AUTHOR: Rebekah L. Sanders