Renter advocates urge Biden to extend eviction protections on Inauguration Day

Posted at 7:58 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 00:10:00-05

PHOENIX — On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury issued guidance to states about how to apply for the $25 billion in rental assistance that was approved in the new COVID relief bill, but the money likely won't make it to renters before federal eviction protections expire.

States have until January 12 to complete and return the application. Arizona is working through the paperwork, according to Ben Petersen, spokesman for Governor Doug Ducey. But with the Center for Disease Control's moratorium on evictions scheduled to expire on January 31, renter advocates are pushing President-elect Joe Biden for more time.

"On his first day, really first hour in office as one of a set of emergency actions we expect him to take to extend, to strengthen, and to enforce the CDC eviction moratorium," said Diane Yentel with the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an advocacy group for renters.

Yentel told ABC15 the group has been working with the Biden administration for swift action to prevent the immediate evictions of renters who are renters who are behind on payments and would become eligible for removal from their homes on February 1. The U.S. Census estimates that more than 147,000 households in Arizona are behind in rental payments.

The organization is also asking that the moratorium be made automatic and universal because right now, "renters are only protected if they know about it and take affirmative steps," according to a letter NLIHC will submit to the Biden administration on January 15.

Yentel told ABC15 she is hoping the protections extend, "until the federal government provides the level of resources needed to pay that back rent. And until the financial fallout from the pandemic ends."

The group estimates that up to $100 billion additional funds will be needed to provide stability.

But landlords who have been abiding by various moratoriums state and federal since March 2020 are losing money and patience.

Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus with the Arizona Multihousing Association, a group that advocates for landlords said moratoriums don't solve the problem.

"It only answers half of the problem. So what we really need is assistance with fewer strings attached," Gilstrap LeVinus told ABC15.

She said without immediate access to funds, eviction bans allow bills to continue to accrue hurting both renters and landlords.

"Our request of President Biden would be: reduce the qualifications, make sure those who have who have been unable to pay their rent in the past are able to quickly qualify and stay in their homes," she said.

NLIHC estimates that Arizona's share of rental assistance in the latest relief bill could be up to $484 million.

But it will be harder to qualify.

The law says recipients must be qualified for unemployment or attest to a financial hardship caused by the pandemic; demonstrate that eviction would put them at risk of homelessness; and prove that their income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income, which was $52,000 for a family of three Maricopa County in 2020.

The requirements are concerning for Gilstrap LeVinus because she said they are reminiscent of extensive documentation that the Arizona Department of Housing initially demanded of renters to get access to CARES Act rental assistance. The State was heavily criticized for months-long delays in that process.

"If you qualify for an eviction moratorium under the CDC moratorium, then you should automatically qualify for assistance," Gilstrap LeVinus said. "By tying it to various income levels or unemployment, it slows down the process, it, you know, it requires the renter to verify their qualifications. It makes the money much more difficult to deploy."

For Yentel, the anticipated bureaucratic delays are all the more reason that eviction protections need to continue.

"The eviction moratorium has to be extended to provide more time to get those resources to renters," Yentel said.