PHOENIX — Phoenix residents who are attempting to apply for COVID-19 rental relief funds before evictions resume on April 1 are being met with busy phone lines and no way to file electronically.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program is being funded by $51.1 million allocated to Phoenix in the federal COVID-19 relief package passed in December 2020.
The money was received on January 19 and the city’s program launched on March 8. But some who need the help tell ABC15 they have not been able to apply.
Phoenix resident Javier Cabrera said he has spent hours trying to get through on the phone line designated for the program.
Cabrera is still working but said his partner is not due to COVID-19, and they are behind in rent. His call log from March 15 shows 129 call attempts.
“We did get through into the automated system. We sat on hold for an hour or two and then the line would hang up. Go through the process again. Hour or two and the line hangs up,” Cabrera said.
Calls to apply are only accepted on Mondays beginning at 8 a.m. Once they are full, applicants have to wait until the next Monday.
“Just seems really weird that you're only allowed to call one day of the week. And that's their process to get help to millions of people that are in need,” Cabrera said.
ABC15 received emails from other viewers who have had the same experience.
One viewer wrote, “I have called more than 600 times and never ever been able to get through to someone.” Another view emailed, “I’ve made over 2000 call attempts…there’s no online assistance…”
A spokesperson for the City of Phoenix told ABC15 there has been a delay in getting the online portal for electronic applications up and running.
The Phoenix Human Services Department used half the funds to staff phone lines for residents who prefer talk on the phone “and also serve populations that don’t have computer access or may need more hands on assistance,” according to a statement from city spokesperson Tamra Ingersoll.
But the other half of the funds were allocated to non-profit organization Wildfire, to facilitate the acceptance of applications through an online portal. But, due to “contractual delays," the statement said, "the Wildfire online portal was not completed by the March 8 launch date.”
Because the March 8 launch date has already been announced, “The city decided to continue with the launch of their portion through phone appointments.”
The online portal is expected to be functional on March 22.
Maricopa County has not yet begun accepting applications at all. It was expected to launch March 15 but a spokesperson said they are still finalizing the program and “expect to open up applications later this week.”
The Department of Economic Security (DES), which is the clearinghouse for rural counties, began accepting applications on February 23.