The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $8 million dollars for a rental and utility assistance program for those impacted by the pandemic at a March 16th board meeting.
The City of Tucson and Pima County partnered together for the Eviction Prevention/Emergency Rent and Utility Relief Program with funds administered by the Community Investment Corporation (CIC).
Through the program, both tenants and landlords or property managers (acting on behalf of tenants) impacted by the pandemic can receive up to 15 months of rental and utility assistance–12 months in arrears in 3 months in advance to ensure housing stability.
“I’m glad to see that the board understands the importance of keeping our community members in homes. We have opportunities to assist financially and ensure that our landlords are also able to meet their obligations,” said District 5 Supervisor Adelita Grijalva. “The priority now is to ensure that the funds get out as soon as possible.”
The $8 million is part of the $15,188,622.60 the county received in Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The other $7 million would be used by the Community Action Agency (CAA) to process claims.
The City of Tucson approved $19.1 million for a total of $27.1 for this program. According to the Community Action Agency case processing has begun, with a backlog of more than 4,500 applicants. They anticipate it would take two to three months to complete the backlog of claims.
Pima County has also partnered with Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to inform tenants and landlords on how to contact the county to receive help if eviction is imminent, said Chair Sharon Bronson. Those who need assistance should await their April TEP (and sister company, UniSource Energy Services) bill, where the information will be provided, or visit Tucson and Pima County Eviction Prevention Program. For those without internet access, call (831) 292-4308.
Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of The Arizona Multihousing Association (AMA), a statewide trade association for the apartment industry, is heartened by Pima County’s effort to provide rental assistance, but thinks the county has not provided enough funds and assistance should have come sooner.
LeVinus believes the federal funds Pima County received in January should have been deployed in January or early February at the latest and said the delays and government red tape left many property owners facing foreclosure and the potential for bankruptcy.
“It’s pretty simple—immediately deploy more aid. A backlog of more than 4,000 residents waiting for assistance is simply unacceptable,” said LeVinus. “Again, the most effective and surefire way to prevent evictions is to deploy rental assistance.”
She noted the city of San Antonio’s efforts, having provided over $76.8 million in COVID-19 emergency housing assistance as of March 17.
“The County should also dedicate more funds for emergency rental assistance, as other counties and cities throughout the nation have done,” said LeVinus.
She also criticized the county for allocating $2 million of federal coronavirus relief funds for eviction defense services, when legal defense may be a futile effort. LeVinus said in Arizona, there is no legal defense for nonpayment of rent, so while legal assistance may delay an eviction action for a few days, perhaps due to a legal defect in the filing, the eviction will likely resume once the rental owner corrects it.
“On the other hand, expedient delivery of rental assistance will, with certainty, not only prevent the eviction, but will also prevent mounting debt for many Pima County renters,” said LeVinus. “Given the average monthly rent in Arizona, that $2 million redirected to legal aid could have satisfied about 363 months of rent that will continue to be owed.”
AMA also opposes the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium, which protects tenants impacted by the pandemic from eviction, deeming it unconstitutional and costly. The eviction moratorium ends March 31, 2021, but is expected to be renewed.
In July 2020, AMA requested economist Elliot Pollack conduct an economic impact analysis of the eviction moratorium on rental property owners. With renters making up 35% of the Arizona households and a median rent of $1,036 per month, Pollack estimates $1 billion in rent is paid every month in Arizona.
Using this data, Pollack then analyzed what would happen if 1% of renters cannot pay or decide not to pay due to the moratorium. Over seven months that would result in a loss of about $67.8 million, and adding in the two-month eviction process and turnover, it would amount for a total loss of about $87 million for landlords. He said the loss would cause a ripple effect for all those involved in the industry from contractors to suppliers, as well as the workers in the apartment industry.
In his report, Pollack wrote, “The apartment industry alone employs over 21,900 workers both directly and through their ripple effect. This will impact their estimated $695.9 million in wages and the $3.8 billion economic activity that is generated annually.”
LeVinus implores the county to be more transparent with its citizens by quickly and publicly reporting deployment of all emergency rental assistance and other federal funds.
“Property owners are frustrated. For more than a year, our members have worked with residents to keep people in their homes,” LeVinus said. “The eviction moratorium has been passed at various levels of government without appropriate eviction relief resources attached, leaving property owners to pay their own bills—like mortgages, property taxes, maintenance costs and payroll—while not receiving rent for months.”