$41 million in rent help to be distributed by Pima County through Sept.
Eviction prevention program shifts as Tucson bows out
Rental assistance worth $41 million is coming to the city of Tucson and Pima County, even as Tucson plans to stop applying for and receiving pandemic-related rent and utilities funding from the federal government by the summer.
Together, city and county officials estimate they’ll be able to prevent more than 2,000 families from being evicted with the latest round of funding. Because the money is coming from the first tranche of Emergency Rental Assistance started in 2021, it has a September expiration date. County officials said they don’t expect any problem getting the money out, as the need for rental assistance is still high in the community.
Pima County and the city of Tucson each received $11 million in federal rental assistance last week that was being held by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The county is also expecting another $6 million, and the city another $13 million.
By the county’s estimates, that’s 700 families who will avoid eviction and “who will be made whole,” Dan Sullivan, the director of Community and Workforce Development for the county, said, giving a conservative estimate. He said it will also extend the county's timeline for providing rental assistance.
“It’ll probably be even more (families who will benefit),” he said. “Who will not have their utilities shut off, but it’s also going to continue so there’s not a hard cut off. We’re not looking at shutting everything down by say June, which were some of our projections.”
The city gave a similar estimate, with Terry Galligan, the deputy director of Housing and Community Development, saying 1,500 families will benefit from their rental assistance. The city does expect to wind down their rental assistance program by the end of June, however.
“We are working with the county now, and we anticipate the county will take over all applications in July,” Galligan said. “The city will continue to work closely with the county, and we anticipate the transition will be seamless for the community.”
The Tucson and Pima County Eviction Prevention/Rental Assistance and Utility Relief Program started processing cases and delivering funds in mid-March 2021 though they started streamlining rental assistance applications and pooling resources in August.
Since then, the joint program has delivered $54,204,439 in rental assistance and $5,013,209 in utilities assistance. They’ve completed 38,802 eviction prevention cases, according to their website.
Most of the funding has come from federal pandemic relief bills, namely the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. As COVID-19 cases began dropping in early March, city and county officials started predicting rental assistance run out by late spring or early summer, even after the city and county received $22 million in rental assistance early in February.
Sullivan has described emergency rental assistance as a “cocktail” of funds, with money coming from the state and private sources too. The county has been providing rental and utility assistance for almost 30 years, mostly through their Community Action Agency, so as the city bows out of the joint rental assistance program, the county’s agencies will take over the application and distribution.
There are two tranches of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds, called ERAP I and ERAP II. All the $41 million coming in this latest round is part of ERAP I, which carries the September expiration date, and the city is going to finish out their EARP I before ending their program.
The county will continue using ERAP II funds that will last past September and into 2025, but they also have to apply for funds being held by DES. Sullivan said that any money that the county gets will be spent as soon as possible, saying “we’re not going to space it out. We’re going to serve the need as we get it.”
“I’m really going to push, and I’m really hoping we get as much ERAP II as possible,” he said. “That way we can sustain this level of service we have in our community as long as possible.”
With the pandemic-era allocations, the county hasn’t had to turn people away and have been able to meet the need in the community, Sullivan said, which wasn’t the case before. This also raises the concern for Sullivan that once the pandemic does end, there won’t be those funds to match the need, but he hopes Congress continues delivering the same level of help while it’s needed.
“The thing that keeps me up at night is what’s going to happen in this community once this enhanced benefit goes away and we’re back to the limited amount of resources we got from the feds,” he said. “I’m hoping that Congress acts and that there’s something to keep this level going for the long-term.”
Having this level of funding “makes sense on all fronts,” he said. “Not only is it better for families — you’re not having kids wind up in homelessness, which has a generational disruption in their life — you’re also having landlords made whole and you have people in that supply chain like plumbers made whole.”
From a bureaucratic perspective, it’s also less expensive to keep someone in housing than to get them back in housing, he said.
“All around, investing in the problem this way is, number one, better for people and everybody involved,” he said. “It’s also just a more efficient and effective intervention.”
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.