How to apply for $492M in Arizona renter aid

Catherine Reagor and Jessica Boehm

Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK

Struggling Arizona renters and landlords will be able to begin to apply for almost a half- billion dollars in federal aid before the end of the national eviction moratorium on March 31.

Most of the money – about $290 million – will be administered for rent and utility payments in the state’s rural counties through the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

In the Valley, Maricopa County, Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Chandler and Gilbert will have their own rental-aid programs with a total of more than $135 million in stimulus funds.

Many renters hurt by COVID-19 need the money now. At least two out of every 10 tenants in Arizona are behind on rent payments, according to University of Arizona professor Keith Bentele’s recent analysis of the Census Household Pulse Survey to predict the state’s growing homeless problem.

Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the nonprofit Wildfire: Igniting Community Action to End Poverty in Arizona, said the new influx of federal funds is welcome but likely will not be enough to help all Arizonans in need of rental and utility assistance.

She said that’s because the tighter eligibility criteria set by the U.S. Treasury Department will make it more difficult for renters to apply.

The $492 million Arizona is receiving is part of the $25 billion set aside for renter aid from the $900 billion stimulus package passed in late December, according to the Treasury Department.

Who can get help

This round of federal renter aid comes with more requirements than the 2020 CARES Act funding, which provided $90 million in assistance for tenants and landlords across Arizona.

The Treasury Department set these guidelines for the new aid: h Households must make 80% or less than the median income in an area to qualify, according to the Treasury Department. For example, in Phoenix that’s $62,250 for a family of four.

h Priority will be given to households below 50% of the area median income, which is $38,900 for a family of four in Phoenix.

h At least one person in a household must qualify for unemployment or have been hurt financially because of the pandemic. People who have been unemployed for more than three months will get priority.

h Applicants must prove they are at risk of homelessness, typically with an eviction or utility shut-off notice or past-due rent documents.

Housing advocates say this round of rental aid mainly will help lower-income families but will leave out many households making just above the minimum wage in Arizona.

The money can be used for unpaid and future rent and utilities. Eligible households can get up to 12 months of aid.

At least 210,000 Arizona households are at risk of eviction, according to a report from the UA Innovation for Justice program and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Arizona’s rental aid program

“We want to make sure renters in Arizona have the resources and support they need,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement about the aid. “We will continue to work closely with community and local government partners to efficiently deliver this relief.”

The state will start taking applications for renters and landlords in rural Arizona at des.az.gov/ERAP on Feb. 23.

Landlords aren’t pleased about the way the federal aid is being divvied up in Arizona.

“As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic impacting Arizona property owners, any relief dollars represent good news given that many rental owners have not been paid rent for months on end,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multifamily Association. “With that said, every relief package is only as effective as its distribution model.”

She said the plan for the nearly half billion of aid allocates about 59% of funds to rural areas of the state and only 41% to residents in Maricopa County and Pima County.

That “concerns us because it limits the relief resources available in precisely the areas that need it most,” Gilstrap LeVinus said.

Help in metro Phoenix

Maricopa County’s plan is to have its rental help program, funded with $46.1 million, open for applications in mid-March.

Maricopa will also administer Scottsdale’s funds because although that city qualified for federal funding, it handed the money off to Maricopa.

Phoenix plans to begin taking applications for its $51.1 million renter aid program on March 8. Wildfire, which worked with Phoenix on its 2020 funding to help tenants and landlords, will administer about half of the funds.

Phoenix residents can apply starting March 8 by calling 602-534-AIDE or at wildfireaz.org.

Mesa is currently taking applications for its $15.76 million renter program at www.mesaaz.gov/mesacares.

The Chandler City Council is expected to vote on the plan for its $7.9 million in federal funds Feb. 25. Information on when and how it will begin taking applications from renters and landlords will be available after that date.

The Gilbert Town Council is voting on the program for its $7.7 million in renter funds on Feb. 16.

Renters and landlords can apply at www.gilbertaz.gov/covid19.

Glendale will begin taking applications for its $7.6 million to help landlords and tenants at the beginning of March at www.glendaleaz.com/cap.