By Catherine Reagor| July 16th, 2020
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Days before Arizona’s eviction moratorium is set to expire, Phoenix and Maricopa County have launched renter and mortgage aid programs with a total of $50 million to help residents hurt by COVID-19.

Both programs are taking applications and could help more than 11,000 metro Phoenix residents.

These housing-aid plans require less documentation and income restrictions than the $5 million state fund to prevent evictions. Because of that, the new programs are expected to help both struggling tenants and landlords quickly.

Maricopa County renters not living in Phoenix or Mesa — which have their own federal CARES Act money — can receive as much as $4,500 in rental aid, as well as money to pay utilities.

Phoenix’s program offers tenants and homeowners as much as $3,300 in mortgage and rent help as well as $900 to pay utilities.

Also, Mesa recently launched a $1.125 million program to help its residents hurt by COVID-19 pay utility bills.

“We want to keep as many people in their homes as possible because we know that family stability, safety, and health begin with a roof over someone’s head,” said Bruce Liggett, director of Maricopa County Human Services Department. 

“We understand the urgency and ask for people’s patience as we try to assist as many households as we can.”

Eviction ban set to end soon

The new renter-aid programs come as Arizona’s eviction moratorium is set to expire July 22.

If the moratorium isn't extended, landlords are expected to file as many as 5,000 evictions in metro Phoenix by the end of the month.

The deadline for a moratorium on rentals with federally-backed financing or funding has been extended until Aug. 31.

Housing advocates recently sent Gov. Ducey a letter asking him to extend Arizona’s eviction moratorium until the end of the year. Federal CARES Act money, which is funding the new Valley programs, must be spent by then. 

Ducey hasn’t commented on whether he will extend the moratorium.

Another challenge for Arizonans struggling because of the pandemic is the end of the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits funded by the CARES Act. It is scheduled to end on July 25.

Arizona’s statewide $5 million eviction-prevention fund has been slow to help renters and landlords. Some critics of that fund, launched in late March, also have questioned why it has taken Valley municipalities receiving CARES Act funding this long to launch their renter-aid programs.

“It has taken us only six weeks to launch a program that would normally take six months," said Fields Moseley, Maricopa County communications director.

Spencer Self, Neighborhood Services director for Phoenix, said the City Council first needed to work out what residents would need most during the pandemic before allocating federal funding to its program.

To ensure people get the rent, mortgage and utility help as fast as possible, unnecessary multiple levels of application approvals aren’t required, Self said.

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Rent help in Maricopa County

Tenants living in Maricopa County can receive $1,500 a month in rent aid for up to three months by the end of the year from its new $30 million program. 

Liggett said the county would like to help more than 6,000 of its renters with the funds.

Maricopa County requirements:

  • Renters can't live in Phoenix or Mesa because those cities have their own federally funded programs.
  • Incomes can be higher than what typical rent assistance programs allow. A household can make 300% of the federal poverty level, which is about $65,000 for a family of 3.
  • Households can apply for funds for past-due rent between March and December of this year.
  • Applicants will need to submit: evidence of financial hardship due to COVID-19, a photo, lease agreement and household income.
  • Maricopa County renters can also get almost $850 to pay utilities when they apply for rent help.

Maricopa County rent help:  https://www.maricopa.gov/5583/COVID-Crisis-Rental-Assistance

Housing help in Phoenix

Marchelle Franklin, Human Services director for Phoenix, said it was important to the city to provide help for homeowners as well as renters with its $20 million plan.  

Through the program, Phoenix could to help 5,000 renters and homeowners with monthly payments. 

  • There are no income limits for the Phoenix program.
  • Phoenix residents do need to show their income has dropped due to COVID-19 through pay stubs or other documents.
  • Eligible households may receive one-time assistance with utility, rent or mortgage obligations for charges incurred from March 1, 2020, through Dec. 30, 2020.
  • Phoenix households can receive $300 for electric, $300 for gas and $300 for water bills.

“These funds are critical on many levels, but what is most important is being able to connect those who need financial assistance with those funds quickly and efficiently,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, an Arizona nonprofit that is administering Phoenix’s program.  “Too many people are on the edge of homelessness.”

Phoenix help for homeowners, renters: www.phoenix.gov/resources#resource_resident

Mesa utility help

The Mesa CARES Utility Assistance program already has spent $17,518 to pay water and electric bills for its residents hurt by the COVID crisis, according to the city. 

The average award is $515.24.

To qualify, Mesa residents must:

  • Be furloughed, lost a job, experienced a cut in work hours or dealing with another economic hardship related to COVID-19.
  • Earn incomes of no more than 200% of the federal poverty level
  • Submit documentation showing income for the past 30 days.

“We are continuing to take applications from residents," said Kevin Christopher, a spokesperson for Mesa.

Mesa utility help: https://www.turnanewleaf.org/services/financial-empowerment/immediate-financial-assistance.html

Programs to pay landlords, lenders

Housing advocates are hopeful the money from Maricopa County, Phoenix and Mesa will be spent more quickly than the $5 million state housing fund.

Since Phoenix and Maricopa County programs don’t have as many requirements, money can reach its residents faster, housing advocates say.

All the programs will pay landlords directly. Mortgage aid from Phoenix will go to lenders.

Renters are encouraged to let their landlords know if they are applying for help from the new programs because that could help slow evictions if the moratorium expires next week.

“Phoenix and Maricopa County have set up renter-resource programs that are much more friendly to people who need the help, and that means money will be deployed quickly," said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association.

“Ideally, we would like to have seen this money to help renters and landlords available weeks ago, but more time was spent making the programs more accessible, and we needed that," she said.

Many housing advocates point to Houston’s housing fund as an example of what should be happening in Arizona. In mid-May, $15 million in rent relief was claimed by Houston tenants within two hours of the city’s renter-aid program launching.

State eviction-prevention fund

The $5 million state housing fund was launched at the end of March and still has $3.8 million in aid not spent.

The Arizona Housing Department has updated its program to get the remaining funds to eligible renters faster. As of July 10, 1,177 renters across the state had been approved for an average of $950 in aid from the fund.

About 8,000 applications from renters requesting more than $8 million in aid are currently under review.

The state housing agency has launched a call center and hired temporary staff to contact applicants with incomplete applications to see if they still need rental assistance, Arizona Housing Department spokeswoman Janelle Johnsen said.

Renters applying for the state fund must provide proof they have lost at least 10% of their income during the pandemic. That means showing pay stubs, layoff letters, unemployment income and stimulus checks.

Applicants also must provide their lease and a driver's license or state ID, plus meet income caps and cost-sharing requirements.

State rental eviction prevention assistance: https://housing.az.gov/general-public/eviction-prevention-assistance

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral today.

How to apply for housing, utility help

Go to these websites to apply for housing and utility help, find program requirements and community agencies who are handling applications:

Phoenix help for homeowners, renters:  www.phoenix.gov/resources#resource_resident

Maricopa County rent help:  https://www.maricopa.gov/5583/COVID-Crisis-Rental-Assistance

Mesa utility help: https://www.turnanewleaf.org/services/financial-empowerment/immediate-financial-assistance.html

State rental eviction prevention assistance: https://housing.az.gov/general-public/eviction-prevention-assistance

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