PHOENIX - As a moratorium to home eviction is about to end, a number of non-profit organizations in Arizona are asking Governor Doug Ducey to extend it.
In March, Gov. Ducey issued an executive order that delays enforcement of eviction orders for renters impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The order applies to renters who are in quarantine due to COVID-19, or are facing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
“Nobody should be forced out of their home because of COVID-19,” said Gov. Ducey at the time.
The order is set to expire on July 23.
Organizations "foresee potential impacts" of looming eviction cliff
The letter is signed by 14 non-profit organizations in Arizona, and tells Gov. Ducey there is a critical need to either issue a new and more comprehensive executive order that contains additional protection for tenants and landlords, or extend the eviction moratorium.
"Executive action is critical to make sure that hundreds of thousands of Arizona residents are not left homeless during the hottest months of the year, exposing them to greater risk of both contracting and spreading COVID-19 as the pandemic crisis escalates in our state," read a portion of the letter.
Should a new executive order be issued on the issue of eviction, the letter recommends Gov. Ducey to, among other things, direct additional stimulus funding towards rent relief or housing voucher, no reporting of eviction to credit bureaus, sealing eviction records, and no rent raises.
"The time to act is now to assure renters and landlords alike that you understand this issue and are working to mitigate what could be a disastrous toll on our local communities," read a portion of the letter.
“It’s very likely that the courts are already very busy. And to all of a sudden have this rush of evictions occur, landlords may not be able to go into the court in order to attempt these evictions," said Angelika Doebler, a lawyer with Davis Miles McGuire Gardner.
Democratic lawmaker speaks out
“At this point, we just really don’t have a sense of when we can see of any kind of semblance of economic normalcy in our state," said State Rep. Kirsten Engel, during a video conferencing interview with FOX 10. State Rep. Engel represents District 10, which covers a portion of the Tucson area.
State Rep. Engel says they have sent multiple letters asking for an extension and a simplification of the Renters Assistance Application Program. Currently, the $5 million fund has around 80% of funding left in it. On July 6, $1,097,000 had been allocated for assistance, and by the end of the week, the most recent chart from the Arizona Department of Housing shows that the number only went up by $20,000.
“We’re hearing from the counties that they have applications filed back in April that they have not been able to get to. So there is a backlog," said State Rep. Engel.
Requested money is almost double the amount of the fund. Lawyers are preparing for possible lengthy court battles.
“The moratorium in no way released tenents of their obligations to pay their rent," said Doebler. "The governor was very clear on that, that everyone still owes the rent that is due. It is just they couldn’t be evicted in this short amount of time given the stay order. So come July 23, when that moratorium is released, all that rent is due."
Governor's Office issues statement
Officials with the Governor's Office have issued a statement in response to the looming expiration of the eviction moratorium order.
"On the order, we are finalizing our policy direction. Want to make sure people have resources to keep paying rents and stay in their homes. Resources are getting to renters but we want to see them get out faster. To that end, we've worked with the Department of Housing on a number of changes, including reducing the paperwork burden, simplifying the criteria for eligibility, and offering multiple months of assistance. The Department also has improved the user-friendliness of the website portal and is working to stand up additional customer service avenues for those experiencing problems. This will continue to be a priority."
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