Time running out for Arizona renters who are behind on rent

Posted at 8:40 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 06:34:55-05

When asked during his Wednesday press conference what the state would do prevent evictions once the federal moratorium is lifted on December 31, Governor Doug Ducey answered in part, "the best way to keep people inside their homes or apartments, is to allow them to be safely and successfully employed, so they can pay their rent or pay their mortgage."

But people like Melissa Moore of Phoenix are back to work. And still can't afford her rent.

Moore was already not able to miss a paycheck when she lost her job at a healthcare facility in June. She found another job three weeks later which paid less money and fell behind in rent.

"I was taking care of making payments. They were small payments. But I have other bills as well," she said. "I have a vehicle that I want to keep. Because if even if the home goes away, I'll have a vehicle to get back and forth to work."

Moore applied for rental assistance through the Arizona Department of Housing in June, but says the only time she heard from them was an emailed survey in October.

The next month she was diagnosed with COVID.

"And it took me a month to feel better," Moore said.

By December, Moore was behind more than $5,000 in rent and late fees and she was served a 5-day notice to vacate on December 8.

Ducey's office and the Arizona Department of Housing point to rental assistance funds distributed across the state that they estimate have totaled between $90 million and $110 million as if those payments will prevent evictions in January.

The Arizona Department of Housing has released $5 million to 2,475 households. It has about $2 million left.

Maricopa County said it spent $36 million on rental assistance for 2000 households.

Last week the Board of Supervisors set aside an additional $10 million from the general fund to help pay the pending applicants.

The City of Phoenix spent $24 million to help 5817 households. The council voted last week to allocate an additional $3.3 million.

And new data from the US Census Bureau suggests, that isn't nearly enough to fill the need.

In its weekly household pulse survey for November 25 through December 7, out of Arizona's 1.1 million rental households, 190,000 report being behind in rent payments and 93,000 of those households said they are likely to leave their home due to eviction. Ten percent of Arizona renters said they have no confidence that they will be able to pay next month's rent

Pamela Bridge, an attorney with Community Legal Services said she expected eviction courts to be packed as soon as they open in January.

"We're really looking at that week of January 11 being the week that we believe if we're going to see a substantial amount of tenants evicted," Bridge said. She said that's the earliest date that renters who claimed eviction protection through the CDC moratorium would be removed if a landlord filed when the courts open on January 5.

While Moore's eviction court date is set for December 22, she may fall into that category and get a few extra days in her apartment.

But she says there is another group of at-risk tenants who are not in the court system yet.

"Tenants who have been trying to work something out with their landlord, and the landlord is now saying, I need to get this tenant out," Bridge said.

There is no way of knowing how many of those renters exist, but if Governor Ducey or Congress don't act before the end of the year, everyone will soon find out.