The number of renters evicted in Maricopa County almost doubled from August to September, the first month since the national moratorium ended.
Evictions in metro Phoenix climbed as renter aid went out to struggling tenants and landlords much more quickly than a few months ago.
The number of renters being locked out is expected to keep climbing. About 58,000 Arizona renters said they are likely to be evicted during the next two months, according to the latest Census Household Pulse Survey.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of renters contacting us for help,” said Pamela Bridge, director of advocacy and litigation at Community Legal Services. “We are seeing many tenants who are getting judgment from landlords who aren’t willing to work with them to get rental or won’t renew leases because they want to raise rents.”
One of Bridge’s biggest concerns since the moratorium ended in late August is for people who already have an eviction judgment against them.
“If their landlords apply for a writ, it can be issued in five days, and that leaves families scrambling to find a place to live in less than a week,” she said.
That happened to Sharon Sims, who was evicted from an Avondale home in late September.
“I fell behind on rent in April. I applied for help but was told I wasn’t eligible for Phoenix aid,” said Sims, who couldn’t afford rent after her mother died of COVID-19 in February. “Then as soon as the moratorium ended, I got notice my landlord filed for a writ of restitution. I was locked out a few days later.”
She’s now living in her car.
The number of writs for eviction in Maricopa County climbed to 310 in September from 168 in August, according to the Maricopa County Justice Courts.
Property owners could continue to get judgments against tenants for not paying rent during the eviction moratoriums. But renters, who could show the courts and constables proof they had been affected by the pandemic or applied for rental aid, were able to avoid writs being issued and stay in their homes until the moratoriums ended.
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“Landlords filed more evictions in September 2021 than in any other month of the pandemic,” Maricopa County Justice Courts spokesperson Scott Davis said. “This is what we expected after a full month without the presence of an eviction moratorium.”
Eviction filings in Maricopa County increased to 4,257 in September, up 42% from August.
However, Davis said September’s eviction filings are still down from “normal” levels.
On Aug. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium. The Biden administration had implemented the new 60-day ban in early August so more federal rental aid could get out to tenants and landlords.
Courtney LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multifamily Association, said that group has “strongly encouraged its members to keep working with residents to avoid evictions in every possible instance. We hope they will continue to do so, as they have for 18 months.”
Renter aid getting out faster
Metro Phoenix cities and Maricopa County received about $124 million, minus administration costs, from the first round of federal Emergency Rental Assistance funding. Most launched rental-aid programs with the money in March and April of this year.
About $103.5 million, or 83% of the Valley’s federal rental aid, has been given to landlords and tenants hurt by the pandemic.
Most of the Valley rental-aid programs were criticized for having slow starts, but in late summer, the federal government reduced restrictions on who can receive the money. Since then, the money has gotten to renters faster.
“People are pushing hard to get rental aid out to the many renters and landlords who desperately need it,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, a community action group administering part of Phoenix’s federal rental aid. “Organizations are hiring more people and working on requirements to do the best they can.”
Phoenix’s rent and utility aid program is funded with $46 million, more than any other Arizona city or county. About $40.6 million, or 88% of the money, has been spent so far to help 5,339 struggling tenants.
Maricopa County received the second largest amount at $41.6 million. It has committed $30.8 million — about 74% of its funds — to rent and utility help for 4,175 households.
Mesa’s share was $14.1 million, which it has spent 100% of to help 3,145 renters.
Chandler has spent $7 million to help 854 renters. That’s 89% of its $7.87 million in funding.
Gilbert has spent $4.1 million, about 56% of its $7.3 million in federal rental-aid funding to help 552 households.
Glendale has spent all of its $6.9 million in federal funding to aid 1,111 households.
Most of the metro Phoenix cities and Maricopa County are getting more funding from the second round of Emergency Rental Assistance coming from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, passed in March.
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Advice for renters
Metro Phoenix renters can get free legal aid from Community Legal Services through a new $2.6 million program that Maricopa County tapped some of its federal funding to launch.
Phoenix has also funded a legal-aid program with rental-aid funds for its residents through Community Legal Services.
Bridge also advises renters to check if their landlords accepted rental assistance for them in the last 30 days. Most rental-aid programs require property owners not to evict a tenant for at least a month after receiving the federal aid.
Also, renters who pay off all they owe landlords by tapping rental aid or using their own funds should get a satisfaction of judgment or motion to vacate filing. That will help with the blackmark that eviction puts on their credit records.
“We would like to see more landlords vacate judgments if they get rental aid,” Bridge said. “It helps tenants who need to find another rental.”
Reach the reporter at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.
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AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor and Jessica Boehm