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Landlords urged to be 'patient' with COVID rent assistance still available in Tucson, Pima County

Tucson Pima Eviction Prevention Program can cover up to 15 months of rent to forestall coronavirus-related evictions

More than $20 million remains in a local fund to support tenants and landlords negatively affected by COVID-19 or financial instability, officials with the Tucson Pima Eviction Prevention Program said.

Landlords should try to be patient as administrators continue to distribute funds from the program, which can cover up to a year of back rent and three months of future payments, plus some utility bills for those who take part, officials said.

The demand for rental assistance is high, with 500-600 new inquiries each week to the program. This week there were about 690 applications. While more than half of the $34 million in total rental assistance is still available, there is a waiting list of more than 2,500 cases.

With the federal eviction moratorium expiring on June 30, the local Eviction Prevention Program will continue working to provide help to keep people in their rental housing. Local officials are concerned that a wave of evictions may mean many people who have been covered by the partial block on evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak will be pushed out of their homes in the next few months.

The Tucson Pima Eviction Prevention Program allows landlords to start an application on behalf of their tenants, as well as monitor the status of the case or see if any further documentation is needed. Landlords and tenants must both agree to participate in the program.
To be eligible, renters must have a household income at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income, be at risk of housing instability (such as facing a potential eviction), and demonstrate financial need due to COVID-19.

"These funds are meant to support those landlords as well as the tenants, but i takes time to get them out," said Meghan Heddings, executive director of Family Housing Resources, one of the agencies taking part in the coordinated program.

"It is not lost on any program partners that landlords have held tenants in their properties without payment, in some cases for over a year, and that is a large burden to ask of anyone," she said.

More than 73 staff members from 11 local agencies have been working to assist tenants and landlords submit completed applications and roll out funding for reviewed and accepted applications.

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Once a tenant and landlord are accepted into the program, up to 12 months in back rent and 3 months of advance rent is provided, along with any associated utility fees if needed. 

“We simply need more time given the need to comply with federal regulations, eligibility and prioritization criteria,” said Danny Knee, the Executive Director of Community Investment Corporation, the agency administering the funding. “Our hope and plea is for landlords to be patient.”

CIC and other nonprofit agencies working with the program are encouraging landlords to not evict tenants who may qualify for federal rental assistance in the remaining months of the year. The funds cover a period through December 2021, and at least 65 percent must be spent by September 30.

Despite the long waiting list and increased number of rental assistance applications, the Arizona Multihousing Association said in its June newsletter that Tucson Pima Eviction Prevention Program is “on track to be the most efficient and expedient program in the state.”

To adjust to the increasingly high demand of rental assistance, the local program began streamlining applicants who are living in a “vulnerable neighborhood” as indicated on the City of Tucson and Pima County’s Neighborhood Vulnerability Index Map. Neighborhood vulnerability is determined by 5 factors: percentage of non-white residents, level of education, renting versus owning housing, income level, and the number of children living in poverty, according to the Tucson & Pima County Housing Study (2020). 

Knee said that using the neighborhood vulnerability streamlined approach will hopefully increase efficiency to 33 percent in the coming weeks, going from releasing $1 million in assistance per week to $1.5 million.

The rental assistance application is housed online at https://tucsonpimaep.com/. Applying through the website is encouraged, because it's the most efficient way for program administrators to gather information and monitor applications.

Like other housing and social service programs, applying for the eviction prevention program requires documentation: pay stubs, leases, and proof of the rent money owed.

Among the 11 social service agencies working with the program, such as Primavera Foundation and Catholic Community Services, some are providing on-ground and in-person services in vulnerable neighborhoods where online resources may not be as accessible.

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courtesy Constable Kristen Randall