Tucson and Pima County have received millions of extra dollars to put toward their joint Eviction Prevention Program, an initiative that has helped about 10,000 local residents pay their utility and rent bills since the pandemic began.
The money was originally part of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which doled out about $25 billion to local and state governments in 2020. The effort was meant to help those who were financially impacted by COVID-19, but it came with a condition that officials had to use at least 65% of their money by last September or risk losing what remained.
Arizona’s Department of Economic Security failed to meet that spending threshold — only spending about 10% of its $289 million by the deadline — so $11 million of that unused relief money was sent to both the city and the county this week, where officials met the spending requirements well ahead of the September deadline.
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The combined $22 million in extra funds will keep the local eviction prevention program alive well into 2022, according to officials who said they have already committed close to 90% of the federal relief funds they had in-pocket before this new allocation.
“Tucsonans are still feeling the lingering effects of the pandemic on an already strained housing market,” said Mayor Regina Romero. “Working families, individuals on fixed incomes and those on the brink of homelessness are facing obscene rent hikes and a statewide housing shortage. These resources will help those urgently trying to get back on their feet.”
Both the city and county had requested the extra funds last year because the need for rental assistance in the region began to exceed the money that was available.
The city alone was spending about $1 million each week to keep up with demand, for example, and officials said they expect that trend to continue into this year.
“If we keep going at this pace, which we do anticipate that we will maintain at this pace, we’ll definitely need some more money,” Terry Galligan, the deputy director of Tucson’s housing department, said in October.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva backed city and county's call for extra funding at the federal level, pushing the Department of the Treasury to reallocate money to the region in December. Local officials have credited the congressman for moving the needle on the process.
"I was proud to help Tucson secure $22 million in additional COVID relief funds and am happy to see the funds I fought for keeping people in their homes," Grijalva said.
The county and city have since requested even more money from the state’s leftover federal relief allocation. If that request is granted in the coming months, the region could get another $19 million on top of the $22 million that was just received.
It’s unclear when the state will decide whether to send that extra money or how large the future tranche of cash might be. Regardless, local officials said the money will be needed as the eviction prevention program continues to help residents keep a roof over their heads.
“The new funding will allow us to keep more people in their homes, which is vital to the overall economic health of our community,” said Daniel Sullivan, director of the County’s Department of Community & Workforce Development. “Our federal rental-assistance dollars were running low, so this allocation and the possibility of more in the near future come at an opportune time.”
Reporter Sam Kmack covers local government. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.