A renter in Phoenix looks at paperwork related to her eviction.
Arizona renters facing eviction because they can’t pay their landlords during the pandemic are covered for another month under the roughly $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill.
President Donald Trump was expected to sign the bill, approved Monday night by Congress, into law on Tuesday. It calls for extending the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction ban until Jan. 31. The eviction ban had been scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
The relief bill is also providing another $25 billion to pay rent for tenants struggling because of income lost from COVID-19. No state will get less than $200 million, according to the legislation.
Arizona housing advocates are cheering the additional help, as an estimated 250,000 renters across the state could have faced eviction next month.
“I am relieved to know that help is on the way for struggling families and individuals,” said Patricia Garcia Duarte, CEO of the metro Phoenix housing nonprofit Trellis. “Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic are taking longer than expected, so the assistance needs to keep up with the need.”
Not enough, fast enough?
There are concerns about whether the $25 billion is enough money, and if it can get to landlords fast enough.
Housing and landlord advocates had hoped for as much as $100 billion in rental aid to the millions of renters facing eviction nationwide.
Arizona property owner advocates want this next round of money distributed to struggling landlords much faster.
The state’s first eviction prevention fund, handled through the Arizona Housing Department, has been criticized for taking too long to process applications and to pay landlords who aren’t receiving rent.
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“If the last nine months have taught us anything, it’s that the amount of eviction relief is secondary to how quickly and efficiently these funds get to renters and property owners who continue to struggle,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association. “The state and many cities and counties were slow to deploy earlier rounds of eviction relief dollars.”
She said the group’s hope is that the new funds will be moved to landlords and renters much quicker. If not, she said, “We run the risk of many property owners facing bankruptcy and foreclosure early in 2021.”
Help running out for renters
The new federal aid comes as Arizona was running out of money to help renters.
Less than $5 million is left in rental aid for metro Phoenix renters from the more than $90 million in federal CARES Act funds made available through the state, counties and cities.
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Research from October showed Arizona renters owe at least $178 million to their landlords, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
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The research also projected Arizona had 170,000 to 250,000 renters in danger of being evicted.
Renters who have been able to miss rent payments through the CDC ban and the Arizona eviction moratorium would have owed all their back payments on Jan. 1 if the ban had not been extended.
A look at rules for new renter help
This round of federal relief money to help tenants and landlords comes with more rules and potential oversights.
Similar to current guidelines for renter aid, tenants must either show they were unemployed, experienced another financial hardship because of COVID 19 or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Renters can apply for up to 15 months in aid under the new $25 billion plan, but they must do it in three-month increments.
Like most Arizona rental aid programs during COVID, the payments will go directly to landlords. But both landlords and renters can apply for the money.
The U.S. Treasury Department must provide states with the rental funding within 30 days of the bill going into effect.
About 90% of the money going to states must go directly to help struggling households.
Renters making 50% or less than an area’s median household income must receive first priority for the funds.
The Treasury must conduct quarterly reporting of the renter-aid money and how it’s being spent. That is currently not required.
“We’re grateful that Congress has finally moved to make additional support available to so many families who continue to struggle,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the nonprofit Wildfire: Igniting Community Action to End Poverty in Arizona. “No one should be forced to spend Christmas on the streets.”
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Stimulus/unemployment checks could help
About 12 million people were set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas.
The new stimulus deal includes restarting a $300 boost to the federal unemployment insurance benefit and a $600 direct payment to most Americans.
Studies show many renters hurt by the pandemic relied on $1,200 stimulus checks and bigger unemployment checks from the CARES Act to pay their landlords starting in April.
Housing advocates want the eviction moratorium extended until the end of March to help renters and to provide enough time to distribute the funds. Most are looking to President-elect Joe Biden for more renter help.
“The eviction moratorium extended for another month gives renters a sigh of relief, to potentially enjoy their holidays,” said Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “Although that’s tempered by job loss, and many won’t have presents under the tree or will have to work shifts, as renters are in the service or health care setting.”
Serviss called the $900 billion relief plan “the first important step of many to address housing instability made worse by the virus.”
Reach the reporter at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @catherinereagor.