PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 07: The Medrano family sits outside their RV on October 07, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. They had narrowly avoided eviction from the RV park earlier in the day. Even for families who have remained healthy from the coronavirus, the indirect effects of the pandemic have been especially tough on America's poor, who often deal with simultaneous crises, even in normal times. In the Medrano family's case, inconsistent work, a string of tragedies and even family separation have combined to push them to the brink of homelessness. This summer Medrano's work as a truck driver was sporadic due to the pandemic economy. Meanwhile, he spent his entire savings on three funerals for family members in less than four months. Causing further family stress, Medrano's wife Ana Cecilia, who had temporary residency status in the U.S. traveled to Mexico in December of 2019 to care for her sick mother, but has since been unable to return to Arizona due to a sealed U.S.-Mexico border. The separation left Hector Medrano to care for their four children, supervising distance learning during the day, while working nights. For families like the Medranos, new federal pandemic assistance, yet to be authorized by Congress, cannot come soon enough. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) Family Avoids Eviction And Homelessness In Covid Economy
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 07: The Medrano family sits outside their RV on October 07, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. They had narrowly avoided eviction from the RV park earlier in the day. Even for families who have remained healthy from the coronavirus, the indirect effects of the pandemic have been especially tough on America's poor, who often deal with simultaneous crises, even in normal times. In the Medrano family's case, inconsistent work, a string of tragedies and even family separation have combined to push them to the brink of homelessness. This summer Medrano's work as a truck driver was sporadic due to the pandemic economy. Meanwhile, he spent his entire savings on three funerals for family members in less than four months. Causing further family stress, Medrano's wife Ana Cecilia, who had temporary residency status in the U.S. traveled to Mexico in December of 2019 to care for her sick mother, but has since been unable to return to Arizona due to a sealed U.S.-Mexico border. The separation left Hector Medrano to care for their four children, supervising distance learning during the day, while working nights. For families like the Medranos, new federal pandemic assistance, yet to be authorized by Congress, cannot come soon enough. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“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. 

RELATED: Arizona Landlords Have an Advantage in Evictions — and the House Always Wins

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.

Continue Reading: Received an Eviction Notice? Here Are Some Resources That May Help.