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Guest opinion

Pima County justices of the peace: Please continue the eviction pause

Pima County has never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors are suddenly out of work. Coronavirus cases in the county are not yet falling.

In Pima County, the Justice Courts — where eviction hearings are held — have been closed to nonpayment evictions. But the JP courts are reopening on June 1, with almost 500 families facing evictions in the first two weeks.

The justices of the peace are in a unique position to decide whether a pandemic is the best time for these temporarily unemployed workers to be evicted from their homes. The JPs are elected officials, who are answerable to the voters of Pima County.

It is only the start of June, but temps have already topped 100 degrees several times. As a voter in Pima County, I worry about a dramatic increase in the number of families being evicted, and on the streets, unless the courts take reasonable action. Evicting people right now makes no sense.

While the state of Arizona allocated $5 million in rental assistance, more than 20,000 renters applied for that relief. It would take more than $23 million just to pay the claims made so far. Although county Housing Department employees are working hard to process these applications, few of those who have applied have received any help yet.

There are many reasons why the Justice Court should continue to pause eviction hearings:

Under Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order, eviction orders should not be enforced against people affected by COVID-19, yet Justice Court judges have been ordering enforcement in contravention of order.

Many Arizonans are entitled to unemployment, including federal payments. But many have been wrongly denied, have not received their first check, or have erroneously been told that they do not qualify. Independent contractors weren’t even able to apply until May 12. If they lose their homes, they won’t receive that check when it finally comes.

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Restarting evictions risks the health of court staff, attorneys, and the tenants appearing in court. Constables and sheriff’s deputies will be at risk because social distancing during an eviction is impossible.

Many businesses in Pima County are still closed. Businesses will be able to restart quickly only if they have the resources they need to get back to work, including their trained and trusted employees. If those workers are suddenly without housing, they will not be able to go back to work when called.

Schools are closed, as are after-school programs. Children are particularly affected by homelessness. Their education suffers. Their health suffers. This resonates in the workplace: A responsible teenager may be left alone at home while a parent works, but that same child cannot be left alone on the streets while a parent works.

Homelessness has a profound impact on worker health. When we lose our homes, we also lose our refrigerators, our pantries, our utensils, beds, and bathrooms. Medication is lost, asthma gets worse, and insulin is not refrigerated. Mental and stress-related illnesses increase dramatically.

People who have been evicted put additional pressure on medical resources at a time when they are already stretched thin by the pandemic. We are being asked to shelter in place, but these families will have no safe shelter

It costs more to keep a family in a shelter than it costs to keep them in their home. People will be better off if they still have their possessions when business restarts.

No one thinks that the past-due rent should be forgiven. But eviction decreases the chance that the tenants will ever be able to pay it back, and landlords will find it difficult to replace those tenants once they are evicted.

As a Pima County voter, let these judges know that you want them to pause eviction hearings for nonpayment again, at least until September 1, 2020. You can contact them at:

  • Presiding Justice of the Peace Adam Watters awatters@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Vince Roberts vroberts@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Charlene Pesquiera cpesquiera@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Erica Cornejo ecornejo@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Douglas Taylor dtaylor@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Paula Aboud paboud@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Susan Bacal sbacal@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. Kendrick Wilson kwilson@jp.pima.gov
  • Hon. R Carroll rcarroll@jp.pima.gov

Corinne Cooper is a professor emerita at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law, and a communications consultant.

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courtesy Constable Kristen Randall