TO GOVERNOR: EXTEND EVICTION PREVENTION
Dear Governor Ducey,
We urge you to extend your March Eviction Prevention Executive Order 2020-14, scheduled to expire less than one week from today, and thereby make possible your excellent advice that Arizonans “stay at home” as much as possible. Thousands of Arizonans are at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent should you fail to take this action. Although millions of dollars are available to assist renters, these resources will not reach tenants in the time needed to prevent the predicted severe spike in evictions. Many of those evicted for nonpayment of rent will end up homeless in the midst of the pandemic and severe summer heat and their future search for housing will be burdened by the black mark of an eviction on their record.
On Monday you announced that you would be channeling over $5 million in mostly federal funding into programs designed to assist the homeless. This is excellent news; the state’s distribution of $4.35 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant to various organizations will fund shelters to victims of domestic violence, veterans, pregnant and parenting women, and others in need. We also note and appreciate that an additional approximately $400,000 will go to nonprofit organizations in northern and southern Arizona for rental assistance. Nevertheless, as we are sure you aware, allocating money to help persons who have become homeless during the pandemic will cost much more than preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place.
Moreover, at the current time, the most significant barrier to keeping so many people in their homes is not a lack of available funds, but the delay in getting this funding quickly to the tenants (and thereby their landlords) to prevent the filing of eviction actions as soon as the order expires. According to the Arizona Department of Housing, only half of the almost 18,000 applications for rental assistance have even been processed – more than 8,000 are still in review at this time. Of the 54 percent processed, 40 percent have been deemed incomplete and, in many counties have resulted in no further action or staff attention. In the approximate four months since the rental assistance program has started, housing agencies have been able to process only a fraction of all applications, helping only seven percent of the renters who have requested help, and disbursing only about a quarter ($1.1 million) of the funds available. Reports from counties and non-profits working at the local level indicate the limiting factor in getting rental assistance to tenants and their landlords is not a lack of funds, but staffing and the difficulty tenants, so many of whom are in crisis, continue to face in providing the paperwork needed to meet the state’s eligibility requirements.
Evictions that were down 74 percent in April are already increasing, seemingly in anticipation of the moratorium’s expiration. Given continued high levels of unemployment and delays in
processing unemployment benefits, we see no reason to doubt that Arizona will experience the same surge in evictions that Milwaukee has seen following the expiration of its eviction moratorium in late-May.* Moreover, unemployed workers who may have been able to pay rent in the past may lose that ability when the $600 per week federal unemployment benefit expires July 25th (the same day that the CARES Act eviction moratorium applicable to units in federally-subsidized housing ends). In anticipation of a surge in evictions, the Arizona Supreme Court recently issued guidance capping the number of evictions that can be processed to 25 per hour, or 200 in a single day. As you know, in addition to the black mark on a tenant’s record which will impede their ability to obtain substitute housing, evictions impose immense costs upon landlords in lost rent, filing and court fees, re-renting fees, and effort to find a new tenant in a time of severe economic downturn, and for state and local governments and non-profits, in shelter costs, additional inpatient medical and emergency room costs and sadly, child welfare and child delinquency costs.
Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you and your Department of Housing:
1. Extend the Eviction Prevention Executive Order. While our initial request for delay sent to you on June 22nd requested a six month delay and we still believe such an extension is warranted by the uncertainty of the course of the pandemic and its impacts upon the economy, we note that an extension of even two months would bring much needed relief for tenants unable to pay the rent or reach a forbearance agreement with their landlord.
2. Provide mortgage assistance to the truly small business landlords. The delays attending the disbursement of rental assistance hurts not only tenants but of course landlords. While larger multi-housing entities are required to have the cash reserves to withstand the economic hit of a longer eviction moratorium, small business landlords may not be able to do so. Unless they receive forbearance from their lender, they may face bankruptcy or otherwise be unable to stay in business. This reduces our stock of desperately needed affordable housing. While the Department of Housing provides mortgage assistance to owners who also occupy their homes, there is presently no program in place that would provide mortgage assistance to the truly small business landlord. We strongly urge you to fill this gap by providing such assistance and note that mortgage assistance is explicitly listed as a permissible use of the $32 million remaining in the Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund (A.R.S. 41-110) and, of course, could also be provided by the almost $1 billion state Rainy Day Fund.
3. Speed up the disbursement of rental assistance through:
Further simplification of aid eligibility requirements, such as by allowing tenants to self- certify to their loss of income and/or hardship due to the pandemic, allow (as was done in . Houston) tenants to provide a utility bill to Verify identity in lieu of a state ID, dropping the requirement that the tenant continue to cover 30 percent of the rent amount, and/or enabling landlords to submit rental assistance applications on behalf of tenants;
Providing state financial assistance to community action agencies to enable them to increase the number of staff responsible for processing rental assistance payments;
Adding days to the eviction timeline that would enable a tenant receiving an eviction summons to apply for and receive eviction assistance;
Disbursing more money from the Crisis Contingency Fund to non-profit housing assistance organizations with a proven record of disbursing rental assistance quickly and efficiently.
We appreciate your public statements encouraging people to “stay at home,” clearly the safest, most important, thing they can do to slow the spread of COVID-19. We also appreciate the effort Carol Ditmore, Director of the Arizona Department of Housing, has made in responding to our suggestions for speeding the disbursement of rental assistance to tenants unable to pay their rent due to the loss of employment or other circumstance related to the pandemic.
Prevention of a potentially devastating surge in evictions will take a multi-pronged strategy that includes not only providing money for homelessness services which you have already done, but an extension of your Eviction Order and the provision of financial resources for small business landlords. We hope we can work with you to turn this multi-prong strategy into a reality for the safety of all Arizonans.