Chandler spends $4.1 million to avert eviction tsunami - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler spends $4.1 million to avert eviction tsunami

December 20th, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Chandler spends $4.1 million to avert eviction tsunami

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A Chandler mother had just been diagnosed with lupus when her husband decided to walk out on the family, leaving her to take care of their five children.

The husband had lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of not being able to provide for his family ultimately pushed him to abandon the household.

Not knowing where she would find the money to pay her rent, the mother reached out to AZCEND and received a  grant to temporarily cover the family’s living expenses.

Trinity Donovan, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, said this family is one of many that AZCEND has saved from eviction during the pandemic.

So far this year, AZCEND has doled out more than $3 million for over 1,200 rental payments – significantly more than the $80,000 spent at this time last year.

AZCEND currently has a backlog of 400 applications for rental assistance and that number could possibly grow in the coming months.

“We have been receiving 300 requests per month for the past few months,” Donovan said. “We expect this demand to increase when the moratorium expires.”

A nationwide moratorium preventing landlords from evicting tenants is set to expire at the end of December, which is prompting Chandler to prepare for a potential housing crisis.   

Gov. Doug Ducey said he has no plans to extend a moratorium on residential evictions once a federal ban on ousting tenants expires at the end of the month.

On Dec. 10, Chandler City Council authorized giving $4.1 million to AZCEND and the Salvation Army to help the agencies prevent evictions.

Had the city not allocated these funds, the nonprofits believe they would have run out of rental assistance money by the end of December. AZCEND reported having only about $300,000 left in its rental fund at the start of this month.

The $4.1 million comes out of a $30-million grant given to Chandler through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by Congress earlier this year.

The city decided to spend the majority of its federal aid on assisting local businesses and on capital investments while setting aside $9 million in reserves in case Chandler encountered any unexpected expenses in the future.

One of those expenses has suddenly arrived at the city’s doorstep.

“The need is even greater than we thought,” said Leah Powell, the city’s neighborhood resources director.

The city didn’t realize the backlogs for rental assistance had gotten so high, Powell said, and Chandler was recently informed Maricopa County has burned through its federal funding for rental assistance.

These circumstances have placed the city in a position where it has to act quickly before the need for funds potentially exceeds after the moratorium expires.

Because the moratorium doesn’t automatically protect every tenant and comes with a set of eligibility requirements, Powell said there’s a lot of confusion regarding who and when a resident can be evicted.   

The city has already seen more eviction petitions filed in the local courts, she added, which is an indication that landlords may be preparing to evict once the moratorium ends.    

Chandler could possibly obtain additional assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but Powell said the allocation process is lengthy and the city may not see any new funding until April.

City officials ultimately determined that pulling money out of its reserves would be Chandler’s best option for easing any tsunami of evictions.

“We don’t want to see any break in services from the nonprofits,” Powell said. “We want to make sure that continuity and consistency stays.”

The city will spend $100,000 of the $4.1 million on housing homeless residents in hotel rooms – a program that Chandler started earlier this year and hopes to continue until March.

“There are no shelter beds available,” Powell noted. “We do not have any shelter family options here in Chandler at all.”

Some city officials were hesitant about spending a large chunk of its reserves on residents who have fallen behind on their rent.

AZCEND vets applicants’ financial history and prioritizes rental assistance for first-time applicants. The nonprofit additionally coaches applicants on personal finances and refers them to job centers to seek employment.

Councilman Sam Huang, whose term ends this month, said he doesn’t like the idea of helping people who might need help again.

“You help them this time, they are going to need help another time,” Huang said.

Councilman Matt Orlando adamantly pushed for the allocation of more rental assistance and said this is not the time of year for the city to hesitate in helping vulnerable residents.

It would have been hypocritical for the city to wish its residents a happy holiday, he said, while simultaneously allowing hundreds of them to possibly lose their home.

“If we don’t do this, 1,264 people potentially will not have a happy holiday,” Orlando said. “Let’s keep these people in their homes until the end of January.”

In March, Ducey imposed a moratorium on evictions of renters affected by COVID-19, whether due to themselves or a family member with the virus or simply by virtue of having lost a job because of the outbreak.

He said this is health related because keeping people in their homes helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Ducey extended his order several times before allowing it to expire at the end of October. But the governor noted at that time there would be no immediate effect because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had imposed its own moratorium.

That federal bar itself self-destructs at the end of this month.

Earlier this month, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases and that Dec. 31 expiration, Democratic legislative leaders called on the governor to once again protect tenants from losing their homes and apartments.

But press aide CJ Karamargin said the governor has no plans to step up, saying it’s a federal issue.

Karamargin acknowledged that the governor did not wait for federal action earlier this year. But he said Ducey believes that this should be part of the discussion going on in Washington about the next step in federal coronavirus relief.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that makes no sense, given that the governor has advised people that the safest place to be is at home.

“You can only stay home if you have a home,’’ she said.

The most recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows about 14 percent of Arizonans said they were caught up on their rent. About 56,000 said they are very or somewhat likely to lose their homes or apartments in the next two months.

(Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.)