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Phoenix emergency rental aid still slow to move applications

Delays raise eviction worries for tenant
Posted at 6:34 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 23:35:35-05

PHOENIX — Elmo Crocker does not take walking for granted.

For years, he's struggled with illnesses that have tried to rob him of the ability.

"The tumor on my spinal chord — they couldn't get all of it out because [the doctor] was scared he was going to paralyze me," Crocker told ABC15.

It's one of the reasons Crocker can't work and survives off Social Security. It's not much but he has always been able to share the financial burden with his roommate Maria.

"We've been friends over 24 years," he said.

But in December he said her life, and their friendship was cut short by COVID-19.

"She passed away December 28," Crocker said. "They unplugged the ventilator and her niece called me and told me."

But even through his mourning, January's rent was still due and Crocker needed help.

Unsure where to go, he applied everywhere.

His emergency rental assistance applications to Maricopa County and the Arizona Department of Economic Security were rejected because he lived in Phoenix.

On January 28, he submitted an application to Phoenix too.

Now despite daily phone calls, Crocker said he hasn't heard a word about it.

"nobody has contacted me to say nothing about this application. It's just sitting there," Crocker said.

Julie Gunnigle is an attorney who represents clients with lower incomes in eviction cases through the Arizona Poor People's Campaign.

"It's a full time job to apply for rental assistance in the city of Phoenix."

She said several of her clients have faced eviction while waiting for a response from the city.

"The process is so bureaucratic, and it is so slow, that people are becoming unsheltered because of paperwork," Gunnigle said.

The city said it must verify several documents for each application and that slows the process down.

According to city officials, roughly 500 emergency rental assistance applications are received each week and more than 6,000 are currently waiting to be processed. About half do not have all the required paperwork.

Non-profit Wildifre was contracted with the City to process applications online but ended that program on December 31.

DES was previously only processing applications from outside of Maricopa County. It had to begin assisting Phoenix processing theirs.

In Crocker's case, paperwork isn't the issue. Instead the city said his application "does not reflect an imminent eviction crisis and therefore has not yet been assigned to a caseworker."

While it may not have been a imminent crisis in January when he first submitted the application, it was within 24 hours of his interview with ABC15.

After weeks of waiting, Crocker's landlord served him with a five-day notice to pay or leave.

Turns out that might be what finally gets him some help.

Although an eviction notice may move someone to the front of the line, it also gets them dangerously close to the streets.

In Arizona, an eviction for non-payment can be completed in as little as two weeks.

"This is an unsustainable situation," Gunnigle said. "The pressure needs to be put on the city of Phoenix to get that rental assitstance into the hands of people who need it."

People like Crocker who, despite the loss of his friend and potential loss of his home, is determined to keep moving forward.

"My dad, mom, grandma — everybody always taught me to always have hope. You know, they say God has a plan for everybody," Crocker said.

On Monday afternoon, Crocker received a call from a city representative to set up an appointment this week.

Since it will be outside of the five-day notice window, it is unclear if Crocker's landlord will accept payment.