Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Pima County Supervisors Vote To Fund Legal Services for People Facing Eviction

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2021 at 1:58 PM

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to direct $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, as permitted by law, to support eviction defense services to eligible residents.

This comes in response to an increase in evictions during the pandemic, as residents face financial hardships due to job loss or other factors.

“Until now, tenants have been represented by lawyers in eviction hearings less than 1 percent of the time, while landlords have had legal counsel 88 percent of the time,” said District 2 Supervisor Math Heinz, who voted yes. “Our action today will help keep roofs over the heads of thousands of Pima County families.”

District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy was the one dissenting vote.

Christy expressed concern that landlords and property owners were not considered during this process, as many of them are family-owned businesses who rely on rent as their sole income and have been “demonized and completely put aside.”

He also emphasized that the funds should instead be used to provide what he said is actually needed: rental assistance.

“Rental assistance is the only thing that 100% stops evictions for nonpayment of rent,” said Christy.

The county will be allocating $15.1 million for rental and utility assistance to both tenants and property owners through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, said Heinz.

In order to receive support, Pima County residents would need to prove that they have suffered a loss of income or financial hardship due to the pandemic, cannot afford legal counsel and are facing or will imminently face eviction filing for either non-payment of rent or “material non-compliance” with the lease.

The board has heard from both landlords and those experiencing evictions.

On March 2, Tucson Association of Realtors Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy Steve Huffman spoke on behalf of property owners.

“They have had to maintain all of their financial obligations just like you and I have, paying their own bills and their own mortgages,” said Huffman. "Plus they have had to be financially responsible for physically maintaining rental properties that they own.”

Before the vote, the board heard from a number of individuals and organizations who supported this action, including new mom Cecilia Gomez. Before the onset of the pandemic, Gomez and her husband received the news that they would be first-time parents.

“During that time obviously we were thinking of all the wonderful things that were going to come ahead,” said Gomez. “Just like everyone else, we didn’t know what COVID was going to bring to all of us and how it was going to change our lives.”

During the pandemic, Gomez lost her job and her, her husband, and child had to live on one income, living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about being evicted.

Gomez urged the board to vote yes.

Chair Sharon Bronson believes that while this is a step in the right direction, she is concerned that by the time a case reaches the court system, it’s too late even with legal counsel.

She said Pima County can work with the private and public sector to make sure that “relief money gets to the tenants sooner rather than later because we are not doing that as quickly as I think we should.”

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