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State rental assistance program slow paying out funds

Where apartment rental prices are astronomical
Posted at 8:52 PM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 00:38:08-04

PHOENIX — Thousands of Arizonans have applied for the state’s rental assistance program announced by Governor Doug Ducey’s office on March 27.

$5 million was set aside from the state’s housing trust fund to supplement rent for Arizonans whose income was lower due to COVID-19.

But ABC15 has learned in the six weeks since the launch only less than 400 applications have been approved, as of May 8.

Julie Page of Phoenix is one of the people waiting for her application to be approved.

After battling pneumonia since December, she was finally cleared to go back to work in March.

Then coronavirus happened.

“My doctor extended my leave and the company said well we’re not gonna hold your job forever so goodbye,” Page said.

Her stimulus check took care of her March bills but anything more would be a struggle.

She applied for the rental assistance program in April.

“In the email it said I would hear back from a counselor within 3 to 5 days,” she said.

She said she’s gotten no update since.

Julie is one of the 10,836 Arizonans who have applied for assistance according to the Arizona Department of Housing (ADOH). The agency says as of May 8, only 391 have been approved.

Part of the reason could be that the majority of the applications are incomplete. According to ADOH spokesperson Janelle Johnsen only 2,357 have the proper documentation for their applications to even be reviewed. That means more than 8,000 applications have incomplete information. Johnsen says,” necessary documents include a copy of their lease, documentation of monthly income for all adult household members named on the lease, a bank statement and driver’s license/state ID.” Find more information here.

But getting the money from the state to the agencies administering the program could also be slowing down the process.

While the money is funded by the state, it is city and county human services departments around Arizona that are responsible for accepting and approving applications, and ultimately paying landlords.

The City of Phoenix Human Services Department is handling Julie’s case.

“What I usually get is we’re working through the applications as quickly as we can,” Julie says.

Tamra Ingersoll with the City of Phoenix told ABC15 that, “we (the city) had prescreened people and worked with them to upload needed documents,” but that money was not received from the state until May 6.

Nearly six weeks after the emergency program began.

So what took so long?

Contract negotiations, according to the City of Phoenix.

Technically, agencies around the state who are distributing funds are contracted with the state to handle the program.

Phoenix officials say the two sides took three weeks to agree on terms and another two to get the money from the trust to the City.

Patrick Ptak spokesman for Governor Ducey told ABC15 that under this type of program, cities pay upfront costs and the state reimburses them. This time Phoenix officials asked for an advance, which delayed the process.

Ingersoll said Phoenix did not have the funds to allocate to front payments for a new assistance program. So far, she says Phoenix has received $150,000 of the $650,000 the state agreed to pay.

While Phoenix and the state go back and forth, Julie’s rent is still unpaid.

“May’s rent is late. So I owe two months,” she said.

For now, she’s focusing on finding a job she can work from and keeping herself encouraged.

Look at the bright side be grateful that I do right now still have over my head I’m not sure how long it’s gonna last,” she said.