“Together we can keep our community housed, healthy, and safe.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and its financial fallout have left many Arizonans evicted from their homes, and on the verge of becoming homeless.
In response, Pima County is allocating $10 million toward helping people stay sheltered.
The county’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to put up to $2 million toward eviction legal defense. These resources will be used to help connect people who are facing eviction, have been financially impacted by COVID-19, and are unable to afford legal help.
The money will help renters get access to private legal help, rather than just through the county’s Eviction Prevention Clinics.
Why legal defense matters
Research has shown that renters who have access to legal help during eviction proceedings see better outcomes than those who can’t afford a lawyer.
A report commissioned by the Public Justice Center in Baltimore found that unrepresented tenants likely face “disruptive displacement” in 93% of eviction proceedings. On the other hand, represented tenants avoid “the high likelihood of disruptive displacement” 92% of the time.
This year, Pima County Justice Courts have ruled in the plaintiff’s favor in 445 out of 538 cases, or 83% of the time.
Seven US cities provide legal defense for people facing eviction, but none are in Arizona.
In eviction proceedings, lawyers can help renters avoid a judgment by negotiating a payment plan with a landlord. They can also help tenants identify legal defenses, such as improperly maintained living conditions, that may help them reduce their outstanding balances or delay court action.
“Today the Board of Supervisors took a monumental step in leveling the playing field for folks in our community who are facing eviction,” District 2 Supervisor Dr. Matt Heinz said in a press release. “We’ll spend up to $2 million to provide lawyers for tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent. Together we can keep our community housed, healthy, and safe.”
Catching up on bills
The county also allocated $8 million for rent and utility assistance. Tenants financially impacted by the pandemic can apply to receive up to 12 months of backpay on rent and utilities and three months of payments in advance.
To qualify, tenants must make less than the area median income. For example, in Pima County, that limit for a two-person household is $43,750 and $54,700 for a family of four.
The county’s Community Action Agency (CAA), which processes rental and utility assistance applications, will receive $7 million. According to the county, the agency has a backlog of 4,000 applications, which may take two to three months to clear.
“Our commitment is to expend these funds in the most timely manner possible,” CAA program manager Manira Cervantes said in a press release. “Our goal is to truly prevent eviction. We don’t want to add to the homelessness and to COVID-19, which is what happens when you have a lot of people out on the street.”
Pima County residents can apply to be put on the assistance waiting list here.
While Congress approved a total of $25 billion for rental assistance, it didn’t push back the current federal moratorium on evictions, which is set to end March 31. To take advantage of this protection, tenants must fill out this form and give it to their landlords.