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Pima County now handles rental aid alone, but seeks more funding, community partners

Pima County is seeking to continue making eviction prevention help available to local households, but they’ve had to hire more staff and seek out community partners as federal COVID-19 relief dwindles.

On May 1, the city of Tucson dropped out of the joint emergency rental assistance program it had been funding with the county, but the county is still trying to help another 3,600 households facing evictions or behind in their utility and rent because of the pandemic.

The city and county first started the Tucson and Pima County Eviction Prevention Program in early August 2021. Since then, they’ve issued more than $52 million in aid to almost 16,000 households, mostly within the city limits.

Most of the money has come from the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed in early 2021 as the second round of nationwide COVID relief. Money also came from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Since early 2022, the city had been running short of COVID relief that it had been getting through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, which is a state and federal program that delivers federal pandemic relief. City housing officials said in March that their remaining funds would run out by June, and that they wouldn't apply for more ERAP funding. That city funding was used up by May.

About $12 million is left in county coffers for emergency rental aid, but it’s expected to run out by November. The county has applied for another $15 million that would last until spring 2023.

A final round of funding next year, from state and federal ERAP money, would last another few months, but the county expects to return to distributing $10 million in rental assistance annually as it did before the coronavirus pandemic.

Since May 1, Pima County has delivered almost $6 million to more than 1,000 households by itself, but they’ve had to use more staff from their Community Workforce and Development Department to administer the funds.

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Tenants and landlords can still apply for rental and utility assistance through a website created by the Community Investment Corporation, a local nonprofit, when the county and city first combined their separate ERAP funding in 2021.

The county has also set up a hotline for tenants and landlords to check the status of their applications, find out where else to get help or learn how to apply for rental assistance. The number is 520-724-2505.

The hotline is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Applicants can get the same help by emailing Pima.Cares@pima.gov. The county set up the hotline and email on June 20.

The CIC managed and fulfilled rental assistance applications that came from within the city limits until Tucson ran out of rental assistance in May. The county took over the website and about 3,000 pending applications from the city.

The CIC and city helped Pima County take over the program with “limited interruption,” according to county officials, but more CWD staff have stepped in to help deliver rental assistance.

The county now has 27 case managers awarding federal dollars “at a rapid pace,” according to a county memo, and another seven support staff are helping oversee the process.

The Board of Supervisors will decide in August whether to approve new contracts between the CWD and community partners who were helping the CIC and Tucson deliver rental assistance, including International Rescue Committee, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Charitable Organization and Sunnyside Unified District.

Backlog

When the CIC and city of Tucson handed over almost 3,000 rental assistance cases to the county on May 1, many had already been waiting since February to get their money despite the “urgent” pace at which the county said they were issuing payments in early March.

The county has been able to whittle that number down to about 2,000 as of July 15, but about 5 percent of applications have missing or incomplete contact information critical to completing the process, the county reports.

To help work through the backlog, the county has been assigning 400 cases a week to its 27 case managers helping fill in for the CIC.

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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.

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