For those struggling to avoid eviction, it has been a roller coaster week.
Sunday, after last-minute political finger pointing, a federal moratorium on evictions that has been in place for more than a year expired.
Two days later, just as landlords prepared to rush to courthouses to file eviction notices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will extend the eviction moratorium until Oct. 3.
“Wow. I’m so happy,” Mesa Vice Mayor Jenn Duff said when the news was relayed to her. “It’ll give people time to avoid eviction.”
There is plenty of federal money to do just that, the Biden Administration insisted as part of the political blame game.
At a White House press conference, Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated, “there is enough money out there for states across the country to extend the eviction moratorium from a state level, even without federal action … There’s a great deal — tens of billions of dollars — that can still be spent by states.”
Psaki complained the process of helping renters impacted by the pandemic “is too slow.”
Such is not the case in Mesa.
Nationally, less than 10 percent of an estimated $46 billion targeted for rent assistance has been allocated.
Through the Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (ERAP) program, Mesa has about $20 million to allocate for residents “financially impacted by COVID.”
As of Wednesday, it was nearing $15 million in “funding disbursed” – meaning the city has spent about two-thirds of its federal money for rent and utility assistance.
Of the $15 million the city has paid, 93 percent ($14 million) has gone to back rent.
The city has written rent and utility checks for more than $6 million to residents of three ZIP codes in West Mesa – 85201, 85201 and 85210.
Making it all the more impressive is that Mesa launched its ERAP program just six months ago.
“It’s a point of pride for us, the efficiency with which we’ve been able to allocate the money,” Duff said. “I think we’ve done that better than any other city.”
By contrast, Phoenix has allocated $52 million for rent and utility assistance and as of July 29 has spent just over half that.
A Mesa city website tracking the ERAP program shows “the average number of days between when an application is received and when a rent payment is made, for applications that have been approved and disbursed funds” is a stunningly swift five days. Again, by contrast, Phoenix officials say they have a backlog of more than 2,000 applicants seeking help.
When Mesa approves a rent-assistance application, the landlord typically gets a check for back rent in less than a week.
Making the speed-to-payment all the more impressive is a relatively small staff of one full-timer and two part-timers assigned “on phones and emails” for ERAP assistance, according to Mary Brandon, Community Services deputy director.
“If they get busy, we shuffle other team members over to help,” she noted.
Asked why she thinks Mesa has been so much more successful in dispersing rent assistance than the rest of the country, Brandon said, “Our team provides great customer service.
“We do follow up with emails and phone calls.”
Like others who try to find permanent housing for challenged populations, Nathan Smith of the Phoenix Rescue Mission fears “an eviction tsunami” once the moratorium ends.
With just two months remaining on
the current eviction blocker, Mesa still has millions of dollars for those behind on rent and/or utility bills due to the pandemic.
While the city is not directly providing walk-in assistance, Mesa is partnering with MesaCAN, which has in-person assistance, providing computers to apply online. MesaCAN also takes paper applications and assists with scanning and attaching document
MesaCAN, at 635 E Broadway Road, is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Documentation needed for successful applications includes:
Proof of income for all household members over the last 60 days.
Current Lease Agreement (all pages).
Current Utility Bill (City of Mesa
utilities, SRP, and/or Southwest Gas).
Once renter applications are reviewed, the city reaches out to landlords, who also must complete forms to receive
Duff, who was elected to represent downtown Mesa and its surroundings, said the community is still hurting from the pandemic.
Some have been laid off, others too sick to work for extended periods.
The vice mayor said she hears appreciation from those the city has helped.
“I have heard stories from staff about people they’re able to help. It’s very heartwarming, people are very thankful of this opportunity to catch up,” Duff said.
“They are very appreciative,” Brandon seconded. “We’ve had several stories where people have been in tears when they find out their application is approved.”
And the approval happens again and again.
According to the ERAP website, Mesa approved and paid money on 3,102 applications, as of Wednesday. Another 42 applications were approved with pending payments.
Less than 20 percent of the applications were deemed ineligible. Of 549 application rejections, 207 were because applicants were not Mesa residents.
“Mesa’s done very well on getting the money out to the community,” Brandon said, “and assisting those who have been in need.”