An eviction notice is served at an apartment.
Help is on the way for struggling Arizona renters thanks to an extension of the national eviction ban plus almost $500 million in new federal assistance.
In one of his first actions, President Joe Biden added two months to the federal eviction moratorium. It now expires at the end of March, instead of January 31.
This month, Arizona is expected to get $492 million of the $25 billion set aside for renter aid from the $900 billion stimulus package passed in late December, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
At least 210,000 Arizona households are at risk of eviction, according to a report from the University of Arizona Innovation for Justice program and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Plans for getting the Emergency Rental Assistance Program money to renters and landlords across the state are in the works. Information on when the money will be available and how to apply for it hasn’t been finalized.
CJ Karamargin, communications director for Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, said the state is still waiting to see how much money it will receive, and which Arizona municipalities will opt to operate their own program at the local level.
“Arizona is working to set up a state program right now in anticipation of receiving funds so we can get this money to people as soon as possible,” he said.
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The state of Arizona is expected to get 55% of the $492 million, and housing advocates say its renter-aid program likely will be administered through the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
That’s different than last year, when renter aid at the state level was handled through the Arizona Department of Housing. That agency was criticized for not getting money to landlords fast enough.
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Who can get help
This round of federal renter aid comes with more requirements than the 2020 CARES Act funding, which provided funded $90 million in programs for tenants and landlords across Arizona.
To receive aid in this round:
Households must make 80% or less than the median income in an area to qualify, according to the Treasury Department.
At least one person in a household must qualify for unemployment or have been hurt financially because of the pandemic.
Applicants must prove they are at risk of homelessness.
The money can be used for unpaid and future rent and utilities. Eligible households can get up 15 months of assistance.
Getting the money out
States and municipalities are required to prioritize getting the money to households with incomes below 50% of an area’s median income, and to those with one or more person who has been unemployed for at least 90 days.
Cities and counties must have a population of 200,000 to receive a share of the renter funds. The amount distributed is based on a municipality’s population.
These Arizona cities and counties qualify for the renter aid money: Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties.
It’s not clear if all the Arizona municipalities requested the federal funding. Any unclaimed funds in the $492 million will go to the state to administer.
Maricopa County has received notice that it will get $38.35 million from the emergency rent fund, said Jennifer Franklin of the county’s information center.
“The federal ERA program is much more prescriptive and detailed than the original CARES funding in terms of eligibility, payments and reporting requirements,” she said. “Several policy options are now being considered to ensure compliance and to get the funds out to renters in need of assistance, as well as landlords, as soon as possible.”
Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association, said the new funding must get to landlords and tenants faster than earlier rounds.
If not, she said, “We run the risk of many property owners facing bankruptcy and foreclosure early in 2021.”
Research from October showed Arizona renters owe at least $178 million to their landlords, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
The Treasury Department must conduct quarterly reporting of the renter-aid money and how it’s being spent. That wasn’t required with CARES Act renter aid.
Avoiding eviction with ban
To qualify for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction ban that started in early September and now goes to March 31, tenants must sign a declaration saying:
They lost income during the pandemic.
They can’t make full rent payments.
They will try to make partial rent payments.
They applied for rental help.
An eviction would leave them homeless or in cramped, unsafe living conditions.
Under the CDC rules, renters can’t earn more than $99,000 a year to qualify. Couples, who file joint tax returns, can make twice that much and qualify.
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“Tenants should not have to give their landlord a new declaration in order to receive the extension until the end of March,” said Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy and litigation at Community Legal Services, an Arizona nonprofit that has CDC declaration forms for renters to fill out on its website.
“Because of the substantial amount of rental assistance coming into the state, we hope that landlords will continue to work with tenants and not proceed with eviction complaints during this extension,” she said.
Reach the reporter at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @catherinereagor.
AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor