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Arizona has $127M available in rental assistance; $1M has reached people who need it
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Arizona has $127M available in rental assistance; $1M has reached people who need it

From the June's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Bars, gyms face shutdowns; Tucsonans worried telemedicine might disappear series

More than $127 million in rental assistance is available in Arizona but so far less than $1 million has reached the people who need it.

The slow rollout of the CARES Act funding has been a big disappointment, said Arizona Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson. Earlier this week, she was joined by 32 other state legislators in asking Gov. Doug Ducey to extend until January his executive order barring evictions for people struggling due to COVID-19.

The March 24 order — which allows a temporary reprieve for people facing financial hardships, caregiver duties or health risks — is set to expire July 22. Advocates say that while the order is obviously helpful in the short term, it does not go far enough, and that many will soon be overwhelmed with rent debt.

That pending crisis is being compounded by landlords and property owners not getting CARES funding when tenants can’t pay, Engel said.

One possible solution: provide rental assistance automatically to people who qualify for the executive order.

While that makes some sense, that would first require a more streamlined application process, said Daniel Tylutki, interim director for Pima County Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation. Ideally, it would be a process that allows a family to quickly show they are affected by COVID-19 without having to piece together all the typical qualifying documents.

“It is one thing to provide needed financial stimulus but if said state, utility and federal regulators can’t also adjust, in most cases, 30-plus year old rules, regulations and pre-computer processes, then we move at the speed of paper,” he said, adding this is an issue around the country and not just in Arizona.

“Personally, the only thing more complicated than qualifying for a first-time mortgage is applying and processing an application for rental assistance, again, per existing funding requirements not imposed by the county.”

The county is currently working on changes to build capacity and better assist households and property owners in need, he said.

Engel, in the June 22 letter to the governor, urged Ducey to consider that “tens of thousands of Arizonans will become homeless on July 23 if you do not extend your current eviction delay order.”

“On this date, months of back rent will become due (and for many also late penalties) for which tenants will not be able to pay,” she wrote. “Most will not even have the benefit of a 5-day waiting period because a majority of county justices of the peace have already approved eviction orders.”

But Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president of the Arizona Multihousing Association, said they do not agree with extending that order. She said while some members of her organization include large community builders, many are “mom-and-pop” rental owners struggling to pay their bills.

“That’s 10 months without payment for many of these folks,” she said. “That’s not sustainable and it could create serious ramifications for the state’s economy and the housing sector.”

LeVinus agrees a big part of the problem is that the aid is not reaching the landlords, and would like to see property owners compensated for those who have not been able to pay their rent.

“As an industry, we will continue to advocate for a simple solution that would make all the difference: Arizona residents who qualify for the eviction delay established by Gov. Ducey’s order or the eviction moratorium established by the federal CARES Act should automatically qualify for rental assistance,” she said.

“That would end the red tape and bureaucracy that continues to hurt struggling renters and struggling property owners.”

There are no plans to change the date of the executive order at this time, said Patrick Ptak, spokesman for the governor.

“We understand the importance of keeping people in their homes and providing assistance for those who have been impacted by COVID-19,” he said. “Our office is working closely with groups including constables, community legal services, the courts, local governments, partner agencies and more to determine any additional actions that may be needed following the order’s expiration.”

Ptak said they want landlords and tenants to “come to resolutions that minimize disruptions and continue to protect public health.”

That’s what Tucson landlord David Bakke said he’s been trying to do: work out plans with tenants and avoid evictions. He has not received any funding from the state although three of his tenants are awaiting those checks and five others would qualify, but haven’t applied.

Bakke, who has about 150 tenants on his rental properties, said another 10 of his tenants are struggling but have set up payment plans.

“The governor’s order gave very specific instructions on what tenants needed to do to provide information to management,” he said. “I went a step further and designed a simple form which asked the resident to hand-write what happened with their job and which asked that they provide some form of simple documentation.”

The problem that’s arisen since: Some tenants have stopped paying any amount even though they had signed an agreement with management.

“When an eviction action is being considered, we provide the tenant a list of private and public agencies which can assist them,” he said. “We will even accept just a letter from these agencies as we know they are good for their commitment of rent payments.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar

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