Gov. Doug Ducey’s moratorium on the eviction of tenants hurt by COVID-19 is scheduled to expire on July 22.
Arizona landlords, who have held off on evictions because of the moratorium, could file to oust as many as 5,000 renters in Maricopa County by the end of the month, according to a survey of landlords.
And, as a startling new study shows, the number of evictions in the state could skyrocket by the end of September.
In a letter to Ducey, housing advocates ask to extend the moratorium until the end of the year. Federal CARES Act funding must be spent by then.
Maricopa County, Phoenix and Mesa are using tens of millions of dollars of that federal funding to help struggling residents pay their rent and utilities.
“The CARES Act funding is just getting into the community to assist tenants and landlords,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, an Arizona group working to end poverty. “We are working to expedite programs to help but are worried the money won’t get to people as quickly as they need it.”https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pphx/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html
Steep eviction cliff
The looming end of the moratorium isn’t the only reason evictions are expected to climb in Arizona.
With more than 250,000 Arizonans filing for unemployment, it is easy to see how more tenants could fall into rental debt by August if they remain out of work and see their weekly unemployment checks drop to $240 or less after the weekly $600 federal benefit runs out at the end of July.
Record unemployment filings are a big reason a Washington, D.C., think tank is projecting hundreds of thousands of renters in Arizona could be at risk of losing their homes at the end of September.
The Aspen Institute estimates more than 577,000 renters across the state will be at risk of eviction in less than four months.
Nationally, the number of renters who could lose their homes is about 20 million, based on 44 million people filing for unemployment in June, according to the think tank.
An analysis of the Aspen Institute data by the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law estimates the cost of those evictions could eventually climb to more than $3 billion across the state because of the long-term money needed for homeless shelters, emergency health care and child welfare.
Renter and landlord help needed now
Beyond extending the eviction moratorium, other aid is necessary to avoid a cliff.
Arizona launched a $5 million rental assistance program in March designed to pay landlords up to $2,000 per month for each eligible renter who applied for help.
More than 17,000 Arizonans have applied for the state rental assistance, and about 1,100 have received it, according to the Arizona Department of Housing. Nearly 80% of the funding, or about $3.9 million, remains unspent.
One Arizona landlord who was owed $4,000 in rent for a Surprise home filed a lawsuit against Ducey over the eviction moratorium, saying it violates the Arizona Constitution and fails to pay landlords for the losses they are experiencing.
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Maricopa County, Phoenix and Mesa are starting their own rental assistance programs using CARES Act funding, but there’s not enough time to get aid to renters and landlords before the moratorium ends.
- Maricopa County set aside $30 million for rent and mortgage aid, while spending another $10 million on homelessness.
- Phoenix plans to spend about $30 million in federal aid to help residents pay rents, mortgages and utilities.
- Mesa set aside $1.5 million toward helping residents pay utilities and aid for homeless people.
New affordable housing fund
Last week, a $100 million fund to help quickly build more affordable housing for Arizona’s rapidly growing population of homeless and low-income residents launched with the help of Medicaid and other health care providers.
The Home Matters Arizona Fund already has drawn $37 million in grants and project financing to help develop at least some of the nearly 200,000 affordable homes needed now in the state. And the plan is for the projects receiving the funds to include other much-needed services, including health care and social services.
“The goal of this fund is broader than typical affordable housing projects. We want to create more than the four walls of a home to improve the lives of residents,” said Joe Gaudio, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community & State West Region and fund contributor. “We must focus on the social determinants of health and create supportive ecosystems for people where they live, learn, shop and work.”
Fund backers want to help support affordable housing development as quickly as possible but also acknowledge much more than $100 million is needed to tackle Arizona’s growing affordable housing problem.
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More time for struggling renters and landlords
A growing number of housing advocates and politicians are sending letters to Ducey asking to extend the eviction moratorium and provide more help to renters and landlords faster.
More than 30 Democratic lawmakers have called on Ducey to extend the eviction moratorium until January, noting that rising homelessness in the middle of the pandemic and triple-digit temperatures is a recipe for disaster.
And more than 30 businesses, advocacy groups and the city of Phoenix have signed on to a letter asking for the governor to extend the eviction moratorium until the end of 2020.
“Dear Governor Ducey
“Your swift action in March to delay the enforcement of eviction action orders ensured that renters impacted by COVID-19 had a place to call home.
“We now respectfully urge you to extend E.O. 2020-14 (the executive order for the eviction moratorium) so that more Arizonans continue to stay in their homes and benefit from additional housing assistance that has been made available to support families and landlords during this crisis.
“More time is needed to connect the renters with the support. Aligning Arizona’s eviction moratorium with the C.A.R.E.S. Act deadline of December 30, 2020 provides agencies more time to get critical funding to those in need.”
AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor