The joint eviction aid program between Pima County and the city of Tucson has been praised for its success in skillfully distributing millions of dollars in federal rent and utilities to voters.
But an apparent delay in the program’s process caused provincial regulators to question Community and Workforce Development, the provincial division responsible for eviction assistance, about progress in providing assistance to voters at risk of their housing. to lose.
Although the program has been a joint city and county effort, some of Tucson’s federal eviction funding has dried up, leaving the program in county hands.
“Looks like we’re a lot slower to provide rental assistance… we’ve had numerous calls about how long it took to get that help,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson said at the board’s June 21 meeting. .
Dan Sullivan, the director of Community and Workforce Development, told the board that his staff is handling an increased number of applications after the city abandoned its eviction program.
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“We thought it was the right choice to hand over those (city) business to us,” Sullivan told the board. “We are working on that now. Some of the things we have seen that have been handed over to us from (the city) date back to January.”
Bronson was quick to express her dismay at the city’s withdrawal, saying, “I’m a little shocked that the city isn’t a partner.”
Both the city and county received Emergency Rental Assistance, or ERA, funds as part of a federal program to provide approximately $25 billion to state and local governments for those financially affected by COVID-19. The city received $61.5 million from those funds, while the county received about $44.2 million.
The county expects to receive more ERA funds, but the city soon ran out of funds because the vast majority of applicants seeking help were Tucson residents. While the county handled some city matters, most were for residents outside of Tucson.
“We knew we had to switch because we would run out of money,” said Liz Morales, Tucson’s director of housing and community development. “We have had many discussions, both with the city and the province, about what this transition would look like. And the county chose to take it all and use their staff to process the rest of those applications. †
Pima County has historically provided rental and utility services through the Community Assistance Division, a subsection of Community and Workforce Development that connects low-income residents with a variety of social support services.
The city originally started its evacuation aid program on its own, Morales said, signing contracts with nonprofits to distribute CARES Act funds. With the receipt of ERA funds, the city has combined eviction assistance with the province in early 2021.
Tucson has contracted with the nonprofit Community Investment Company to handle his share of the work, which raised more than $54 million to about 10,000 households in partnership with 10 subcontracted nonprofits, according to CIC Executive Director Danny Knee.
But when Tucson, and then CIC, foresaw that funding would end, the county was left to run the evacuation aid program.
“We knew about those transition issues and how those issues slowed payments to landlords and tenants,” said Supervisor Rex Scott. “What we didn’t know, until (the June 21 meeting) was that the city already has the program or plans to just pull it out completely.”
While regulators were not aware of the city’s intention to pull out, Sullivan said the decision was part of an ongoing “collective dialogue.”
“It’s not like it was something sudden. Without the context of it all, it might seem sudden, but we’ve had a bit of a conversation about who’s going to continue this,” Sullivan said.
In May, CIC handed over about 3,500 remaining cases to the province. The city will pay its final eviction notice on July 15, but the website that runs the program has been handed over to the county.
During the time CIC was distributing eviction aid funds, CIC had to work with unclear amounts of funding as several tranches of ERA money came in, Knee said.
“We ran out of funding so quickly that we spent the money before the next redistribution came in,” he said. “We had 10 organizations that hired staff to work on this program… we had to pay some of the money to pay them off at some point, and also some of the aid money that went to the landlords and tenants. “
Sullivan admits there were “some instances where communications were lost,” but says the county-run evacuation aid program is on track to continue and plans to outsource to other agencies to raise funds.
Morales said the conversation about ending the city’s participation in the program should be discussed in the context of its overall success.
“What might have been lost in this conversation that I think is important is that this started as a partnership and it was super strong,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of really important work for people in dire need because of the pandemic, people who were unemployed and at risk of eviction or having their utilities cut off. I am very proud of the cooperation we have entered into and I would do it again with the province.”
No ‘formal application procedure’
The pot of EWC funds grew for both governments when the Arizona Department of Economic Security failed to meet the spending threshold of the program that required recipients to use at least 65% of its EWC funds by September 2021. Some of those unused funds were diverted to the county and citywhich received approximately $17 million and $24 million in reallocations, respectively.
While the city was out of eviction funding, the county still has $11.1 million to spend and expects to receive $15 million more ERA funds from DES.
During the board meeting, regulators wondered why the city didn’t ask for more money. However, there is no defined application process to receive reallocated funds from the state.
“It’s not a formal application process, it’s kind of a partnership that we have with DES… It’s an ongoing dialogue with the DES to share some of their excess funds,” Sullivan said.
In addition, Morales said it made no sense for the city to appeal to DES for more funding.
“CIC had informed us by contract that they were ready to leave. So if we apply for more funds, we don’t have the infrastructure or the program here to prevent additional evictions,” she said. “We’ve done what we needed to do and we’re moving on to the work we do well, which is housing and working with our nonprofits. It is best to leave the prevention of evictions to the province.”
A program for the province only
According to the Community and Workforce Development Department, Pima County has provided aid to nearly 16,000 households and distributed more than $36 million in federal emergency funding.
As the county takes on a growing number of eviction aid cases, Sullivan emphasizes the success of eviction prevention efforts beyond direct monetary aid.
Community and Workforce Development has a block of hotel rooms dedicated to high-risk individuals who lose their homes, as well as a Emergency Eviction Legal Servicesor EELS, a program that provides free legal aid to people who are being evicted.
To date, the program has provided legal assistance in 729 eviction cases from August 2021 to May 2022. Although the county uses its US bailout dollars to pay attorneys, ERA funds are often distributed in cases where tenants owe rent and landlords can pay to settle their cases.
“EELS’s role in that is really just being the gateway to the program and helping to prioritize payments to avoid serving the eviction,” said Andy Flagg, the deputy director of Community and Workforce Development who oversees the EELS program. program. “We’ve had real success getting people into places with ERA relocation funding.”
Flagg said eviction cases are now at about 90% of pre-pandemic levels. However, other socioeconomic factors, such as skyrocketing rents and Tucson’s volatile housing market, are still driving the need for help.
“There’s a real challenge for people who have to find another place to find something they can afford,” Flagg said.
It is unclear when Pima County will receive the $15 million payout from DES. But as was the case with the city, that funding won’t last forever.
“The stark reality is that one day there will be a funding clip in the community,” Sullivan said. “(The $15 million) gives us more time to plan what it will look like for our community if we don’t have these federal funds to keep people in homes and keep people in their homes.”
But even without the city’s help, Sullivan believes the county’s multifaceted eviction prevention services will provide a comprehensive program for all county residents.
“We are able to stack the other services we have within the department, such as people in our shelter or facing eviction, so that we can manage them intentionally and enroll them together in our staffing programs to make them work better. jobs,” he said. “So it’s really quite a continuum. I would say we are just at the beginning of innovation when it comes to the potential of this program.”
Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at [email protected]