Chandler getting $8M to help struggling renters - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler getting $8M to help struggling renters

March 3rd, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler getting $8M to help struggling renters

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler expects to receive about $8 million in federal funds to help local residents avoid losing their homes during the pandemic.
AZCEND, a local nonprofit, will be contracting with the city to distribute the money to help residents who are delinquent in their rent. The money only applies to renters and can’t be used by homeowners delinquent in their mortgage payments.
AZCEND has already helped more than 1,800 Chandler households avoid eviction during the pandemic and has a backlog of about 600 applications for rental assistance.
Leah Powell, the city’s neighborhood services director, said Chandler would need at least $2.5 million to satisfy the backlog of rental assistance requests and that that figure likely will get larger in the coming months.
The money can help qualifying low-income applicants to get up to 12 months of their rent paid.
If a resident was already nine months behind on their rent, Powell explained, then the new funds can cover that debt plus an additional three months.
Chandler is expected to eventually allocate $14 million in local, state, and federal dollars to services that help residents stay off the streets.
Many tenants will eventually not be protected by an eviction moratorium that has been in effect throughout the pandemic. The federal moratorium on evictions has been extended to the end of March.
Chandler had originally planned to give about $4 million to AZCEND and the Salvation Army for their rental assistance programs back when it wasn’t clear if the moratorium would be extended past December.
The moratorium’s extension is still worrisome for the city because it allows some residents to put off asking for rental assistance, Powell said, so Chandler doesn’t know exactly how many people may need help paying rent.
“Every time the moratorium is extended, we know that somewhere out there there’s most likely a backlog of people who have not been paying their rent and we may not have heard from (them) yet,” she said.
There has been a serious lack of education among tenants and landlords regarding the eviction moratorium, Powell added, and officials have had to explain that the moratorium doesn’t let residents off the hook for back rent.
“We have had people that thought you could just stop paying rent and mortgages,” she said.
As of this month, about 500 residents have sought housing assistance and Powell’s department was able to refer about 420 of them to another agency for financial help.
Powell said the $8 million will also help people who are behind in their utility payments.
Chandler has seen a substantial increase in the number of residents and businesses who have stopped paying their water or wastewater bills over the last year.
The city currently has about 2,600 delinquent accounts and a utilities debt that has escalated to about $1.5 million during the pandemic.
Nonprofits have been prioritizing their funding for rental assistance, Powell said, so the new federal funds could help more delinquent utility accounts avoid a shut-off.
“There has been very little money available for water assistance,” she said. “Most of the money that’s been allocated has been used for rental assistance.”
The city expects to continue supporting other housing services that have proved to be beneficial to some residents this past year.
It is allocating $125,000 to renew its participation in a program that temporarily houses homeless individuals in hotel rooms.
In the middle of the pandemic, Chandler committed some funding for a regional service across the East Valley that rehoused residents who were at risk of homelessness.
Powell said the program has placed 108 individuals in hotel rooms over the past year. Of that number, 47 transitioned to permanent housing.
“This hotel program has been more successful than any shelter program we have seen to date,” Powell said.
The city is planning to allocate $340,000 to Save the Family for the nonprofit’s rehousing services in Chandler.