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More questions than answers on COVID rental assistance program

By: - May 4, 2020 10:21 am

Photo by BW/Getty Images

On May 1, rent for many Arizonans was due for the second time since Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency on March 11, and while the governor pledged $5 million in rental assistance to people statewide with reduced income due to COVID-19, it’s unclear whether the Arizona Department of Housing is providing the promised relief. 

As of April 28, the state had received 10,939 applications for the Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance program, said Janelle Johnsen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing. Another 19,808 people started the online application but didn’t submit it, she said. 

But Johnsen didn’t respond to repeated calls and emails seeking information about how many people have been approved or denied and how much of that $5 million the state has provided in rental assistance.  

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak referred the same questions from Arizona Mirror back to Johnsen. 

The rental assistance program, launched on March 30, offers up to $2,000 a month for renters who meet income requirements. In Maricopa County, a single-person household earning less than $51,042 annually (or about $4,250 per month) is eligible, and a family of four earning less than $72,916 (or about $5,009 per month) qualifies for the program. 

No word on promised rent aid

Meschelle Hornstein, a Chandler resident who was furloughed from her job at an airport restaurant on March 20, said she applied for the rental assistance program on March 30. Three days later, she received an email that said her case was assigned to a counselor with the Maricopa County Human Services Department.

Hornstein said she has yet to hear from the county on her application. 

“I tried calling multiple numbers associated with the rental assistance, and one was wrong. The other was just a recorded message that hung up at the end,” she said. 

Hornstein lives with her 3-year-old daughter. For the April and May rent bills, her landlord allowed her to pay $600 of the more than $1,100 that is due at the beginning of each month, Hornstein said. 

She waited for two weeks to receive unemployment benefits through the state, a program that has received a record-number of jobless claims and is overwhelmed

Having to deal with another unresponsive state agency that promised aid is discouraging, Hornstein said. 

“This whole process… The unemployment process just transfers over to the rental assistance,” she said. “All this is geared to be really discouraging and make people want not to keep going.”

Hornstein said the status of her application is “under review” by a counselor with the Maricopa County Human Services Department. This is one of the 18 agencies where Rental Eviction Prevention Assistance program applications are referred to, according to the Department of Housing website. 

“Please wait for the agency to contact you directly,” the Department of Housing states on its website. “Due to the high volume of applications in some areas, your wait time may be longer than expected. Rest assured, however, that your application will be reviewed. … Contacting the Community Action Agencies by phone prior to the review of your application may actually delay the process.”

Landlords in Arizona can still initiate an eviction process. But an executive order from Ducey allows renters to request a delay on eviction enforcement

Hornstein said she is concerned that when businesses start re-opening, she will be hit with the many bills that have been deferred – like rent and car insurance – and she will still have no means to pay. 

“It’s been rough,” she said. “It’s hard emotionally and mentallly, the uncertainty of the situation.”

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.