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The month of July saw a record-breaking 31 days of continuous 110-degree heat in Phoenix — and as the heat rose, Maricopa County also saw the most eviction cases filed since 2008.
More than 7,000 eviction cases were filed in July, with the highest case numbers happening in north Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Ahwatukee, Tempe and west Phoenix. The average judgment for eviction cases for the month of July was $3,179.24, according to Maricopa County Justice Courts spokesman Scott Davis.
“I’ve seen my electric bill double. It’s always gone up but not this much,” Dominique Medina, co-executive director of Fuerte, which is working on the Rent is Too High initiative, told the Arizona Mirror. “That stuff leading to evictions should not be surprising to anyone.”
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In June, the courts saw just shy of 7,000 filings, up 27% from the average number of filings Maricopa County has seen over the same time frame during the pandemic, according to Evictions Lab. However, an eviction moratorium was in place during the pandemic and suspended evictions for non-payment of rent due to COVID-19 related issues. Those protections ended in October 2020.
“People are getting evicted because they can’t afford the increasing rents,” said Ken Volk, president of Arizona Tenants Advocates. Rent in Arizona has skyrocketed as much as 80% in some areas from 2016 to 2021.
Not all eviction filings lead to a tenant being thrown out; up to one in three will be dismissed when tenants choose to pay and stay or the landlord does not pursue any court resolution, Davis said.
The dangers of an eviction during summer heat is worrisome for tenant advocates.
“This is inhumane, and our governor, our lawmakers, our cities, our counties on every level should be reacting and doing something about this,” Medina said. While many who are evicted will end up in new housing, the reality is that more evictions mean more people becoming unhoused and living on the streets, he added.
Volk echoed Medina’s sentiments, calling it a matter of “statewide concern.”
The solution both advocates are pushing for is rent control. Democratic lawmakers pushed a series of bills during the recently completed legislative session that would have scrapped Arizona’s ban on the practice and implemented a cap on rental increases across the state.
However, the bill was opposed by the state’s powerful landlord lobby and was never considered.
“The real issue is tenants can’t afford (rent). You’re bleeding them dry and there is only so much people can do before they’re living on the street,” Volk said. “How is it going to hurt the state to have rent control?”
Lawmakers did pass legislation that removed a rental tax levied by cities and towns on rental properties that was signed by Gov. Katie Hobbs, but Volk called it “crumbs.” Rental tax rates vary from city to city, but the average rate is 2.5%, or about $30 on a monthly rent of around $1,200.
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has been attempting to tackle the state’s affordable housing crisis since early in her tenure, but has been shy about answering policy related questions related to her plans. Her spokesman, Christian Slater, was similarly reticent to speak about potential future action when asked about the state’s continued high eviction numbers and advocates pushing for measures such as rental control.
“As a former social worker, Governor Hobbs knows that ensuring Arizonans have secure, safe and stable housing is critical,” Slater said in a statement to the Mirror. “That’s why she successfully negotiated a historic $150 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund and $60 million to tackle homelessness, extended the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and is assisting families in paying off their cooling bills.”
“Moving forward, she is committed to addressing Arizona’s housing crisis and fighting for affordable housing for middle class families by expanding the housing supply so Arizona can be the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” Slater said in response to the Mirror’s questions about what policies the Governor would support. Slater did not address the Mirror’s questions about if the Governor supports or does not support any form of rent control.
With some relief in the form of removing the tax and rent dropping slightly by late last year, renters may start feeling some relief. But advocates are still concerned as homelessness in Arizona, and specifically in the metro Phoenix area, is still on the rise as housing remains unaffordable for many.
Homelessness in Arizona increased by 21% from 2020 to 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“You have the same number of people coming into The Zone because more people are becoming homeless,” Volk said, referring to the homeless encampment near downtown Phoenix that the city recently began clearing out.
When asked what will happen if the heat, evictions and affordable housing issues in the state continue down the path they’re on, Volk had a quick response: “People die. Simple answer.”
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