PRESS RELEASE: Engel, Cano press Housing Department on slow response of COVID-19 rent assistance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2020
TUCSON, Ariz. – Representatives Kirsten Engel and Andrés Cano of Tucson are pressing the Arizona Department of Housing for answers on why the state-funded COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program hasn't helped more Arizona residents in need. In a letter (attached) sent to the department on Friday, May 29, the Tucson-area lawmakers gave the department until June 5 to account for how many applicants it has helped with the $5 million that has been allocated to the program, and to help those eligible by streamlining a cumbersome application process.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in thousands of lost jobs and income disruptions for Arizona residents. The Legislature appropriated $50 million to Governor Ducey to help with rent assistance, aid to small businesses and non-profits, with $37 million currently unspent. As of May 18, nearly 11,000 rent assistance applications were awaiting review by community action agencies, including 2,566 that had all the supporting documents for eligibility. However, the program has been slow to get off the ground as desperate Arizona residents wait for help.
“Due to the pandemic, many Arizonans have lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay rent,” said Rep. Engel. “The state’s Rental assistance program is supposed to help them stay safely in their homes, but right now, only a fraction of those who need the assistance are actually getting it. Rental assistance ensures that tenants can stay in their homes and landlords do not go out of business. We need answers from the Housing Department as to why so many Arizonans are stuck in line applying for this vital assistance.”
“Before the crisis, 30 families in Pima County were being evicted every day,” Rep. Cano said. "In the weeks ahead, 600 are set to be evicted due to COVID-19. We are pleading for the Department to allocate more rental relief to Southern Arizona without delay.”
Engel added, “If the program needs changes, let’s talk about them. Too many Arizonans are facing eviction for nonpayment of rent and yet lack the means to pay it. The Governor’s eviction order has helped people to stay in their homes during this pandemic, but tenants still owe rent and late fees. The rental assistance program was supposed to help tenants pay rent and landlords to stay in business. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Tenants have been caught in a Kafkaesque process of needing to supply local housing agencies with piles of paperwork just to qualify for this emergency assistance.”