Video editing by Anne Simmons.

As the June 30 termination looms for the federal eviction moratorium, Marcos Ysmael, the Pima Country Housing Program manager, is acting to rescue Arizonians from eviction.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might extend the moratorium on COVID-related evictions beyond June 30, he told Democrats of Greater Tucson at their April 19 meeting.

Ysmael has 37 years of experience leading community development and housing programs. He is devoted to securing affordable homeownership and affordable rentals for Arizonans. Now, he’s facing his biggest test yet: A pandemic-related recession that continues to force millions of renters and their families to choose between paying the rent and paying for food, medicine, and other essentials.

Source: Arizona Center For Economic Progress

According to the Arizona Center For Economic Progress, approximately 180,000 Arizona households (1 in 6 who rent) are behind on rent, and over 40% of households do not have “high confidence” in making their following rent or mortgage payment.

Ysmael recommended tenants facing eviction visit Rental assistance, eviction protection for COVID-impacted tenants. “Pull up some of these websites where folks can connect to get this assistance and information they need,” Ysmael said.

“This is a resource page that Pima County has developed for tenants to assist them with connecting with these assistance programs. Visit Pima.gov/RentHelp or click for a printable handout “Need Help Paying Rent and Utilities?

Tenants who need rent assistance can call the Pima County Community Action Agency at 520-724-2667 (Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) or simply dial 2-1-1.

A Daunting Case Backlog

This is a public report of the work of the Tucson Pima Eviction Prevention Program, last updated 4.19.2021.

Ysmael says Tucson has a massive backlog of evictions where tenants are waiting for assistance.

“Only 294 cases have been submitted for payment, which translates to over $1 million,” Ysmael said. “We still have 7,400 [cases] to get to.”

In response, the county has enlisted the help of Community Investment Corporation, an agency that focuses on providing housing assistance.

The agency has partnered with several local nonprofit agencies that include:

Evidence shows that evictions and homelessness may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and cause severe hardship, which is why the CDC is considering an extension of the June 30 eviction moratorium.

Step Up to Justice

“One of the biggest problems in this eviction crisis is that most tenants don’t show up for court,” Ysmael told DGT. “But the other problem is when tenants do show up in court, more than 90% are not represented by counsel,” he said.”

The county allocates $2 million to address this problem, because tenants represented by attorneys are much more likely to keep their homes than those who appear in Court without one.

Step Up to Justice, a free civil legal center for low-income individuals and families in Pima County, powered by the talents of volunteer attorneys. Southern Arizona Legal Aid is also representing people facing COVID-related evictions.

Ysmael says the best place for homeowners to get help is the Arizona Department of Housing Rental Eviction Prevention program.

Help for landlords who collect rent is available too. There are multiple Mom and Pop landlords in Tucson whose businesses are being shattered by renters who can’t afford to pay them.

The American Rescue Plan Act

Additional aid is on its way via The American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the pandemic and the ongoing recession.

First proposed on January 14, 2021, the package builds upon many of the measures in the CARES Act from March 2020 and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, from December.

Arizona received about a half-billion dollars for renter aid from the December stimulus and will be receiving more from the American Rescue Plan.

Housing and Urban Development is promising the city of Tucson and Pima County a total of more than $12 million in homeless assistance, Ysmael says.

National Aid for Households 

Approximately $21.5 billion in federal aid will target households that are at or below 50% of the median income whose renters are not working full time in their previous jobs or are unemployed. 

Also, the American Rescue Plan includes an emergency $5 billion allocation for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. When tenants qualify for vouchers, they pay 30% of their income, and the voucher covers the balance.

Funds for tribal assistance are also included, and another $5 billion is earmarked for the homeless.

Lobbying to Extend the Moratorium

Ysmael told DGT he is lobbying to extend the eviction moratorium until everyone in Arizona is vaccinated and can safely return to their jobs.

Meanwhile, he says he’s “working to get information out the best we can, through flyers for people who can’t access information from their computers.

“And people without computers can always call 211,” Ysmael told a rapt DGT audience, who promised to hand out the fliers in libraries and other public places where people without computers can find them.