Early this week, it looked like time might be up for Southwest Valley residents on the brink of eviction.
The federal eviction moratorium, which had been renewed several times since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, had expired on July 31, and President Joe Biden signaled he would not renew the ban.
But on Tuesday evening, the Biden administration indicated a more limited moratorium would be extended by the Centers for Disease Control until Oct. 3 in places with substantial community spread of COVID-19.
The current eviction moratorium, as with previous eviction moratoriums, only applies to tenants facing eviction who are behind on their rent because of the economic impact of the pandemic—tenants can still face eviction for other reasons, such as criminal activity or not following the rules of the property.
Before the moratorium was extended, local housing advocates and researchers were warning of a large number of impending evictions, especially in the Phoenix metro. An Arizona State University model concluded when the moratorium expired, 80,000 Phoenix-area residents would be vulnerable to eviction.
But Constable Mark Sinclair said moratorium or not, he does not see a huge wave of evictions coming, at least in the Southwest Valley.
Sinclair serves the White Tank precinct, which encompasses parts of Goodyear, Avondale and Litchfield Park.
He’s an elected official, and his duties include serving civil paperwork handed down from the county’s justice and superior courts, meaning he deals with nearly all eviction cases in the precinct.
When Sinclair checked in with the largest property managers in his jurisdiction, he said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear only a handful of tenants were facing eviction. According to property managers he spoke with, most people behind on their rent had worked out a payment plan with their landlords or had been granted rental assistance.
“I’m not seeing this large influx of evictions coming up,” he said, adding he knows other parts of the county might be hit with higher eviction rates when the moratorium eventually expires. “I don’t see it out here in the White Tank precinct,” he said. “I just don’t.”
For Sinclair, who’s served as constable for about a decade, the pandemic radically altered his role in eviction cases.
Pre-pandemic, Sinclair enforced an average of 15 to 20 evictions every week. But when the state and federal eviction moratoriums went into effect, evictions “dropped way off,” in the White Tank precinct, he said.
“Most of them were postponed,” he said of eviction cases. “I would say the vast majority were.”
When the moratoriums were put in place, first by the federal government on March 18, 2020, and then by the governor’s office on March 24, there was confusion about what the bans meant, including among the county’s constables.
“There was no instructions when it first all started, everyone was kind of lost,” he said.
Some tenants Sinclair encountered believed the order meant they could not be evicted for any reason. Others who may have been economically impacted by shutdowns were unaware protections existed for them, he said.
As constable, Sinclair is duty-bound to enforce orders handed down by the courts, but during the pandemic, he was finding tenants who likely qualified for eviction protection but did not know it.
Instead of simply enforcing evictions and lockouts, Sinclair began communicating with the tenants, inquiring about their circumstances. He started carrying copies of the CDC declaration and lists of resources where tenants could apply for rental and utility assistance.
“We were trying to do our best to get out the information that we could,” he said.
He has seen progress since the confusion early in the pandemic. He thinks the programs put in place to keep renters in their homes have largely been successful, at least in his precinct.
“The process that they put in place really started to work…the unemployment, the federal dollars that came in, the rental assistance programs. When people can’t work, they have to do something,” Sincair said.
“I think that it worked, and it is working.”
But eviction moratoriums are of little use for people unaware the protections exist. Some renters, threatened with eviction notices, will simply leave the property on their own to avoid being charged another month’s rent.
Several tenants fighting eviction at the White Tank Justice Court on Wednesday indicated they were unaware the CDC protections existed.
“As of yesterday, the CDC signed a new eviction moratorium order,” Judge Heidi Owens informed those party to the eviction cases. Owens said the court would proceed as it had prior to July 31, when the CDC order was still in place.
One resident, a Lyft driver, got behind on his rent because he said he was unable to work after catching COVID.
“I was laid up and there was nothing I could do about it …I’m willing to pay them the money,” he said.
This particular resident lives at one of the many Tides apartment complexes found all over the Valley. The properties are run by The Robinson Family Group and, according to reporting by The Arizona Mirror, have been one of the largest evictors during the pandemic.
“I’ve been living here for over six years,” he said. “I would like to stay here.”
Judge Owens signed a monetary judgement in the amount of $3,513, meaning the tenant must pay the full amount plus interest, or his wages could be garnished. He also has 10 days to move out, come up with the money, or meet the criteria necessary for protection under the CDC declaration.
Tenants facing eviction, Owens said, should seek rental assistance. They should also sign the CDC declaration immediately and forward a copy to their landlord.
To qualify for eviction protection, a renter must have suffered at least one of the following:
They must also meet at least one of the following criteria:
For those facing eviction, or are behind on rent, officials recommend signing the CDC declaration immediately, and forwarding a copy to their landlord. For those in active eviction proceedings, they also should send a copy of the CDC declaration to the court.
Apply for rental and utility assistance immediately, and communicate with your landlord or property manager. Attempt to negotiate a payment plan, and ensure the new plan is in writing.
The previous CDC eviction moratorium expired July 31, and some congressional Democrats called on the Biden administration to extend the ban to avoid a high number of people ending up on the streets as the highly transmissible Delta variant surges in many parts of the country.
President Biden previously said he does not have the authority to extend the ban because of a ruling from the Supreme Court that stated the CDC exceeded its authority when it issued its September moratorium.
It is unclear if the current ban will go unchallenged.
Meanwhile, it appears federal dollars for rental assitance has been slow to get into the hands of Arizona tenants who need it.
State agencies received almost $500 million in federal dollars for emergency rental and utility assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic — but just 17% of the federal aid had been dispersed as of Monday, according to reporting by Cronkite News.
Madeline Ackley can be reached at email@example.com or found on Twitter @Mkayackley.