Phoenix To Launch $51 Million Rent, Utilities Relief Program In March

Published: Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - 5:51pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 12:49pm
KJZZ
An SRP customer's electricity meter,

Renters in Phoenix who need financial help may find it through a new city program. On Tuesday, the City Council approved $51.1 million to support struggling households.

The money comes from the federal government. Last year, Phoenix got $29.2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds and reached more than 5,700 households. This latest funding has stricter requirements for renters and the city. 

“We have to track who gets the funds by gender, by race, you know as well as income levels. We also have to track acceptance rates, so those things also become very labor intensive for us to capture that data, monitor that data as well as report it back to the United States Treasury,” said Jeff Barton, assistant city manager.

Federal rules require household incomes below 80% of the area median, which is $62,250 for four people, with priority given to those experiencing unemployment for at least three months and incomes below 50% of area median, which is $38,900 annually for a household of four. 

The council approved splitting the money with Phoenix-based nonprofit Wildfire which administered the city’s program last year.

“We are working to manage expectations through the rollout of this program but the need is extreme and the resources remain insufficient to serve everyone in this community that needs help,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director for Wildfire.

Unlike last year’s funding through the federal CARES Act, this program does not include mortgage assistance. It also caps administrative costs at 10% rather than the 20% previously allowed. That means 90% of funding should go directly to those in need. The program should launch no later than March 8.

Councilmember Carlos Garcia and Councilwoman Betty Guardado requested city staff and Wildfire work with justice courts handling evictions and utility companies to identify overdue accounts in order to reach people as fast as possible.

“We just found out that, as of right now, in the city of Phoenix we have 45,000 delinquent accounts, just with SRP, and it’s about $22.4 million in debt that we have,” Guardado said. 

In a press release Mayor Kate Gallego said: “There is immense day-to-day stress when you’re unsure how you will pay the rent or keep the lights on in your home. Today’s decision by the council will give our residents financial and emotional relief, and go a long way toward preventing homelessness.”

The Arizona Bar Foundation created a multilingual website to share eviction information and resources, including how to navigate the legal system and where to find financial assistance. 

Other cities and counties also received funding, along with the state for a total of $492 million. 

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