• Daisy Nadshaw

Housing Advocates, Landlords & Elected Officials Urge Governor Ducey to Increase Rental Assistance

Updated: Mar 21, 2021


Governor Douglas A. Ducey speaking at a rally. Image by Gage Skidmore from Flickr.


Although many powerful groups and figures in Arizona are advocating for expanded assistance to help cushion renters from the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Arizona Governor maintains that the current assistance available is sufficient.

The conditions are ripe for mass evictions as shutdown is imminent, with Arizona being recognized as a new hotspot for Covid-19 cases and the Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego (D) lamenting that Arizona opened way too early, yet evictions continue to be filed in the midst of a pandemic. The Governor of Arizona, Douglas Ducey (R), ordered a limited eviction moratorium through an Executive Order on March 24, 2020 but the process involves a maze of administrative requirements to be eligible for an eviction delay until July 23, 2020. In addition, the adage to judge “in the interest of justice” is open to the judge’s interpretation which leaves tenants unsure of what to expect. “They are not giving the tenants the ability to argue that it’s not in their interest,” says Abby Louise Jensen, who works as an appellate attorney with the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. Ken Volk, President of Arizona Tenant Advocates, gives insight into some of the confusion about the executive order, “It is not stopping eviction actions in court. The tenants think it applies to anyone, it only applies if your hardship is related to coronavirus.” In addition, your hardship has to be “detailed in writing to the landlord for it to become valid.” Within this maze, many miss this integral requirement and this leads them to be removed from their residences.


Maricopa County Justice Court spokesman, Scott Davis, described the situation further, “There is this erroneous belief that evictions are not happening, and that landlords cannot evict tenants, and that’s not correct. If tenants do not pay, landlords can and do file the eviction suits to take those tenants to court …(And tenants) have to provide legitimate proof of being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.” But many tenants may not understand the flurry of administrative tasks needed to make it through the maze and they easily fall through the cracks. Kevin believed that he was automatically covered by Governor Ducey’s executive order after presenting his situation to the landlord and according to a constable may have missed a hearing. Unfortunately this resulted in Kevin getting evicted. He was bewildered by the turn of events, “Literally I am completely protected by this. That fact that I’m getting evicted is crazy.” The Governor’s office was contacted by ABC15 on May 15, 2020 for clarification on the executive order such as what proof was needed but a spokesperson claimed that “no revisions or additions are needed” and that “the public health concerns are addressed.”


Even after enduring the maze, the process can take a turn and suddenly you are on the verge of being evicted again. Aaron Nadel, who lost his job in construction, followed the outlined procedure but still received a five-day eviction notice. “We’ve been communicating with them. We’ve been telling them what’s going on. We’ve been trying to take care of this upfront. And they’re not doing anything to try to help us.” In between submitting documentation to the landlord, to the judge and the constable, and making sure they are the precise documents needed, a verdict by the judge that you being protected by the Governor’s Executive Order is not in the interest of justice, can result in all your efforts being undermined. Even if a constable grants you the right to stay until July 23, 2020, a powerful eviction judgement can loom over you and embolden your landlord to appeal the court with a motion to compel.


Then there is uneven delivery in the execution of the order with some tenants being granted a delay by the constable and their landlord while others are not. In some hearings, the judge works to clear up the confusion regarding the executive orders. But other judges will not provide an overview of the order with the tenants in court claiming that tenants will need to contact a lawyer like Judge Pro-Tempore Nicholas DiPiazza at Desert Ridge Justice Court explained to Nadler, “I can’t give you legal advice. I can only tell you that under the law I am constrained to enter judgement”. Some judges are setting March 1st as the file date to hold off on eviction however others are not. The steps to acquiring rental assistance to avoid this maze are even more arduous. Daniel Tylutki, interim director for Pima County Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation, acknowledges that “Personally the only thing more complicated than qualifying for a first time mortgage is applying and processing and application for rental assistance, again, per existing funding requirements not imposed by the county.” Kaitlyn Wall lost her job as a receptionist at an animal hospital in March. Two months later after making daily calls to the Maricopa County Services Department, the caseworker asked for more documentation and the application moved forward with approval from a supervisor. They also informed her that she missed the deadline for April rent and in June she was still waiting for final approval to receive funds. Ronnie Wollenzier who applied for rental assistance of the $5 million from the newly implemented Covid-19 Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance program comments further, “It’s not an easy process, you need a scanner, you need to be able to fax things, some of these documents I don’t have access to. So that’s been kind of tricky to navigate.” Many worry that the Executive Order excludes those who don’t fall neatly within the guidelines and that the rental assistance is too constrained. Housing advocates, landlords and elected officials are urging for expanded benefits to provide more solid protection against eviction.


The pathway to rental assistance is unsure and the final destination is filled with uncertainty. L202 South Mountain Freeway Dedication. Image by the Arizona Department of Transportation from Flicker.


Arizona renters were already financially stressed before the pandemic. But now the circumstances has heightened the need for rental assistance. With the uneven deployment of federal assistance, such as in Amanda Scott's case whose unemployment account hit a snag or in Ronnie Wollenzier’s case who applied for unemployment in late March but by May 1st still hadn’t received benefits or in the case of Nadel who could not qualify for unemployment due to being paid in cash by his employer, housing advocates are requesting for the state to provide secure rental assistance to protect against these federal inefficiencies. “We think we’re going to see an increase in homelessness,” said Joan Serviss executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Housing Coalition. The end of the limited eviction moratorium is on the horizon however since March only 7% of the rental assistant applications were approved for a little over $1 million, about 48% have not been processed and nearly 40% are designated as incomplete. Serviss comments, “If we’re going to end this eviction moratorium then we need to make sure the rental assistance dollars are helping and getting out on the streets right away.” Scott applied but her application remains lodged in review. “It’s stuck in a ‘for review.’ You call and you can’t get through,” she states about the situation. The Governor’s office is not eager to speak about delaying the end of the moratorium but suggested that they were working harder to get funds sent faster in a statement to Fox 10 Phoenix on July 7, 2020.


Many housing advocates believe that could be a major benefit to expanding qualifications for rental assistance to address Arizona’s current housing crisis which has deepened due to the pandemic. “That emergency rental assistance is something that we were hoping for before a pandemic hit like this.” said Joan Serviss. The article cited that the Phoenix region’s unsheltered homeless population has tripled in 5 years. Daniel Tylutki, believes that a starting point to expanding rental assistance is to require a more streamlined application process. Sharon Bronson, a Supervisor from the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who represents District 3 shares the sentiment of many housing advocates, “ As we deal with this COVID emergency, I think we should rethink how we do evictions. My concern is that in doing these evictions, we are going to put more people in our community at risk. As the pandemic passes, we need to rethink our whole equation with justice and law enforcement, and I think that is an opportunity to do that.” She said what is happening is “neither humane or ethical.” Honing in on and prioritizing financially distressed renters due to coronavirus is key, however rental assistance needs to acknowledge Arizona’s current housing crisis and provide solutions. The governor’s office steadily maintains that there are no plans to change the date of the Governor’s Executive Order in a statement to AZCentral on June 16, 2020.


Landlords in Arizona also realize that the accessibility of rental assistance to tenants is connected to their economic fates. “Obviously we want help for residents,” Courtney LeVinus, the president of the Arizona Multihousing Association, elaborated further, “This needs to be a comprehensive solution. And that means recognizing that it’s not just tenants that are affected by the pandemic.” She advocates for automatic relief for tenants who meet the standards outlined by Governor Ducey’s Executive Order to speed up hardship payments and provide economic relief to landlords. Gilstrap LeVinus believes, “if a resident qualifies for the eviction delay implemented by Ducey, that resident should automatically qualify for financial relief. That’s only fair for residents, and it will help struggling property owners as back rent bills continue to grow.” The purpose, according to her, would be “end the red tape and bureaucracy that continues to hurt struggling renters and struggling property owners” However the Governor defended the move, “This order is about protecting public health and providing relief to families impacted by this virus.”


Elected officials, who are predominantly Democrats, are also requesting expanded benefits and do not believe rental assistance should harshly delineate approval just based on the coronavirus pandemic, “Arizona is already experiencing a high rate of eviction due to a high cost of living and Covid-19 is only going to exacerbate the issue,” wrote the mayors of Tucson, Winslow, Flagstaff, Somerton and Tolleson. Through advocacy and painting a broader picture of the issue, they were able to convince Governor Ducey to allocate more funds to rental assistance through a newly established program on March 24, 2020 and to execute an order to prevent evictions that fall within certain criteria. Senators such as Arizona Rep. Kirsten Engel D-Tucson acknowledged that the demand unemployment claims are outsizing the ability to be processed and state rental assistance have failed to arrive. Thirty-three Democratic Legislators requested in an urgent letter to Ducey to extend his order by 6 months through January 2020. The letter asks on behalf of the landlords to speed up on the state’s rental eviction prevention assistance program and blames the governor for the “delays in delivering this assistance to eligible families and less than 30% of the $50 million has been allocated.” State Senator Sean Bowie describes the dilemma, “The governor is the only one who can allocate those funds.” However despite the pleas from a variety of elected officials for a longer eviction delay and for more assistance, in an ABC15 article published June 26, 2020 the governor is “not committing”. The focus remains solely on connecting the applications to Covid-19 however this focus is causing the application process to burden those who are affected by Covid-19, “we are also continuing to focus on getting assistance to all those impacted by Covid-19.


Sources:

12News: ‘It’s not automatic.’ Some tenants lulled into false sense of protection by Governor Ducey’s Executive Order, article published April 22, 2020.

ABC15: Is the governor’s eviction protection order working?, article published May 18, 2020.

ABC15: Landlord insists on eviction in spite of Ducey’s executive order, article published April 17, 2020.

ABC15: Should eviction delays be extended? Arizona renters could be forced out next month, article published June 26, 2020.

Arizona Public Media: Despite new protections, situation for rents and landlords is uncertain, article published April 9, 2020.

AZCentral: Arizona loosens rules so more renters hurt by COVID-19 should qualify for financial help, article published June 16, 2020.

AZCentral: Democrats urge Ducey to extend eviction delay amid rising unemployment, lack of other aid, article published June 23, 2020.

AZCentral: Evictions are still happening in Arizona. But they’ve dramatically dropped, article published May 24, 2020.

FOX 10 Phoenix: Arizona’s eviction moratorium to end July 23, renters and courts prepare for eviction, article published July 7, 2020.

FOX 10 Phoenix: Phoenix City Council to help tenants unable to pay rent, obtain legal representation, article published June 9, 2020.

Governor Douglas A. Ducey: State of Arizona Executive Order 2020-14, Postponement of Eviction Actions, order effective March 24, 2020.

The Hill: Phoenix mayor: 'We opened way too early in Arizona', article published July 5, 2020

KAWC News: Arizona Renters Affected by COVID-19 Will Not be Evicted, Gov. Ducey Says

KJZZ: Thousands Have Applied, Few Have Been Helped By Arizona COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Program, article published May 27, 2020.

Tucson: Arizona has $127 million available in rental assistance; $1M has reached people who need it, article published June 26, 2020.

Tucson: Despite available COVID-19 reprieve, Pima County evictions uneven, frequent, article published June 16, 2020.

Vox: Arizona’s new coronavirus spike is worrisome, article published June 15, 2020.


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