Piggy bank with gold coins

A $51.1 million city-wide rescue plan is underway to help thousands of Phoenix residents behind on rent and utilities.

Starting March 8, Ahwatukee landlords and renters can apply for up to 15 months of assistance to go toward paying off 12 months of overdue rent and/or utility payments. They also can apply for three months at a time of pending payments. 

“I’m proud of [Phoenix] for stepping up by providing emergency help with rent,” Mayor Kate Gallego said in a tweet after Council last week unanimously voted in favor of the aid package. “With the approval of $51 million in rental and utility assistance, we are giving our residents both financial and emotional relief when they need it most.”

The relief comes from a $25 billion national Emergency Rental Assistance Program that Congress rolled out in January to help people struggling with mounting household bills as a result of the pandemic. 

The Arizona Department of Economic Security received about $289 million and is working with local governments to disburse the assistance statewide, according to Gov. Doug Ducey.

“We want to make sure renters in Arizona have the resources and support they need,” Ducey said in a release. “The rental assistance program will keep families and those in need in their homes and help them get back on their feet as we overcome the effects of the pandemic.” 

In 2020, the city dispensed $29.2 million in rental and mortgage assistance through its Coronavirus Relief Fund Program, helping over 5,700 Phoenix households, according to Ingar Erickson, Phoenix deputy city manager. 

Unlike last year’s relief, the new plan does not provide assistance for mortgage payments and applicants must meet stringent income requirements to qualify for the rental and utility aid.

Now, the program will prioritize Phoenix residents who have been unemployed for more than 90 days and those making at or below 50 percent of the area median income — the midpoint of a region’s income distribution. 

For example, 50 percent of the area median income for a family of four in Phoenix is $38,900 annually.

The program also offers assistance to residents at or below 80 percent of the area median income, which for a family of four is $62,250.

All applicants must show a loss of income resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Payments will be issued directly to landlords or utility companies on behalf of the renter. 

The Phoenix Human Services Department will be working with Wildfire, a local nonprofit aimed at ending poverty, to rollout in-person and online rental support to residents.

About half, or $26.1 million, will be disbursed through the Human Services Department and the remaining $25 million will flow through Wildfire to deliver rental assistance services through its web of non-profit community organizations. 

Ten percent of the funding will go toward city administrative costs. 

City and community managers are focusing on improving communication with the community and expanding access to financial services for those in need, Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Wildfire, said in Tuesday’s meeting.

“What we are looking at this time around, and what we’ve learned from the last program that we administered, is that applicants are struggling and continue to struggle,” Zwick said. “They will apply in as many places as they can, as many times as they can, until they feel that they are getting the support that they need.”

For those with limited internet access, three services centers will be available for in-person assistance. 

They are: Sunnyslope Family Services Center, 914 W. Hatcher Road; John F. Long Family Services Center in Maryvale, 3454 N. 51st Ave; and Travis L. Williams Family Services Center in south central Phoenix, 4732 S. Central Ave.

Services will be available in English and Spanish, along with translation options for other languages spoken, and applications can be received through an existing central intake line at 602-534-2433.

“We know that people are suffering in our community, we know that people are in need, we don’t know how many but we know that people are in need,” Erickson said, adding she and his department were “extremely excited about the opportunity to be the lifeline to those folks.”

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