Pima County set to end COVID-era rental assistance by February, shutters online application
Applications for rental assistance from Pima County’s eviction prevention program closed Wednesday, officials said, and money for the COVID-era program is expected to run out in February. The remaining funds will help cover rent and utilities for those who have already applied and are on a waiting list.
Federal funds from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, will all be spent in the next couple of months, said Dan Sullivan, the director of Community and Workforce Development for the county. This week, the county closed the online portal where people can apply for rental assistance.
The county set up the Eviction Prevention/Rental Assistance and Utility Relief Program with the city of Tucson in mid-March 2021.Tucson dropped out of the program in the summer alongside the Community Investment Corporation, a local nonprofit, as the funds they received from the Arizona Department of Economic Security ran out.
Now it’s the federal ERAP funds that are nearing the end, and Sullivan considers these funds, which were created by COVID-relief acts known as CARES and ARPA, to have been “the largest most significant component” or rental assistance during the pandemic, according to a Dec. 9 county memo.
Pima County officials thought they may see the eviction prevention program end last March though the residents were still in need for rental assistance at the time. A $41 million tranche of federal dollars came through for the program in April, however, extending the life of the program.
Sullivan said that the county “is going to continue to seek out and try and get as much rent and utility assistance for our community as possible” and that the online application may go up once again if the county receives more funding to distribute.
“We could very much wind up opening it again in the future, but right now we don’t have that certainty,” Sullivan said.
Additional funding will have to come from the Department of Economic Security though, Sullivan said. Even then, “it’s something that we’re going to go after, but nothing that we have in hand right now,” he said. DES expects to exhaust all their ERAP funding by April, according to the memo.
Pima County will also apply for a direct federal reallocation of another $15 million from the U.S. Treasury in January, but those funds would not be awarded until March at best, according to the memo.
Since the county’s eviction prevention program started, just over $64 million in rental assistance was distributed, including more than $5 million in utility assistance, according to the website, which is still up but not accepting applications.
The county received just more than $59 million in federal funding through the ERAP program. More than 12,000 households have received rent and utility assistance from the program, according to the website. Hispanics made up 44% of applicants to the rental assistance program while Whites made up 30%.
During the time that the county started delivering rental assistance, they also began other programs to stop evictions, such as the Emergency Eviction Legal Services program, a social-worker position in the Constables Office, hotel emergency housing for recently evicted families and a judge pro tempore position to set up an eviction court, according to the Dec. 9 memo. These programs are expected to continue beyond the end of ERAP funds.
Sullivan said “there’s still a great need in the community” for rental assistance. The county was distributing rental assistance before the pandemic and plans to deliver $4 million on an ongoing basis. Ongoing funding would come from a mixture of state, private and federal funds.
That rental assistance is “significantly more restrictive,” however, as it has a lower threshold for income eligibility, requires a referral and only covers rent dating back to shorter periods of time, which makes it “clearly insufficient to meet the current community need,” according to the memo. The rental assistance program covers back rent from as much as 15 months prior to applying and up to three months in the future.
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.