Housing

Peoria-area rent, utility assistance skyrocket during pandemic

Help requests up 300% for city, surrounding area

Posted 8/26/20

Help paying for rent and utility service has long been available to Peoria residents, but with the pandemic …

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Housing

Peoria-area rent, utility assistance skyrocket during pandemic

Help requests up 300% for city, surrounding area

Posted

Help paying for rent and utility service has long been available to Peoria residents, but with the pandemic laying waste to the economy and jobs, many more people are taking advantage of this service.

Karla Mortimer, FSL program director for the Wickenburg and Peoria Community Action Program, said the pandemic has caused an increase in people needing financial assistance for rent and utilities.

Financial assistance in Peoria and the surrounding areas has risen nearly 300% compared with this time last year.

So far this fiscal year, FSL has served 230 households and 962 individuals in need of rent and utility assistance who live in Peoria, Waddell, Youngtown, Sun City and Sun City West.

Last year, FSL, formerly known as Foundation for Senior Living, served 116 households and 296 individuals during the same time.

The utility and rent financial assistance programs are facilitated through the Peoria Community Action Program office, 8335 W. Jefferson St., and funded through FSL via a Maricopa County agreement.

The program also received funding through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, or the CARES Act, which has allowed the nonprofit to assist a wider swath of people.

Ms. Mortimer said service needs have increased — in a usual year, FLS can run the program with a full-time and part-time caseworker, but now the organization has six full-time caseworkers to help with the increased demand.

If things continue to stay closed and unemployment continues to rise, it will continue to affect services, she said.

“There are people using the assistance that are part of a new service population, as the qualifications have changed for the CARES Act money,” she said. “For our usual yearly funding, we see the same as the qualifications have not changed for that. But for the rental assistance due to the impact of COVID, an individual has to make 300% above the poverty level. That would be $3,190 a month.”

Because of demand, FSL has expended about 70% of what would be its yearly funds compared with this time last year. Ms. Mortimer said the organization has about $173,000 left, as allocated by its current contract.

However, the program received $2.8 million for rental assistance and $100,000 for utility assistance from the Cares Act and will continue to offer that through throughout the year.

“Maricopa County has been an essential tool in making these funds available to the public,” Ms. Mortimer said.

“Funds can run low, but Maricopa County will help in relocating funds if needed in one of the [Community Action Program] offices.”

Community Assistance Manager Carin Imig said the city of Peoria has provided additional office space at no cost to FSL for four caseworkers to help run the assistance programs out of the Community Assistance Resource Center to better serve the community.

Peoria is working to fill in some of the assistance gaps, Ms. Imig said.

“The city has a long-standing relationship with the operations of the CAP Office and FSL and we will continue to work with them to get as much assistance to Peoria residents as possible,” she said. “We have discussed many times the fact that many residents who need assistance have never been in a situation of asking for help before. They don’t know where to turn or how to access many of these important benefits. These programs can be of great help for those who need it.”

FSL is a 45-year-old Arizona nonprofit that provides an array of health and social services, including affordable housing, nutrition programs and community-based health care solutions for seniors and adults with disabilities or other chronic health conditions.

For Peoria, Waddell, Youngtown and Sun City residents financially impacted by COVID-19, the CAP program offers relief to help pay residents’ utility and/or rent bills with charges incurred after March 1.

Assistance to help pay water bills also is available.

Mortgage assistance is expected to be available in September for Peoria residents.

Eligible residents may receive $600-$800 for electric and gas bills, up to $300 to cover city of Peoria water bills, and up to $4,500 for rent payment (a household in subsidized housing must have a rental obligation to qualify for rental assistance).

Ms. Mortimer said living during the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented with new challenges all the time.

“I think for all of us this is all new — the funds are new, the qualifications are new and the clients are new,” she said. “The best calls I have received is when the landlords receive the payments for rent and clients are beyond themselves. I have had people pray, scream, cry, and give thanks to the CAP office without belief.”

For information on eligibility and document requirements, contact FSL’s Peoria CAP office, 623-979-3570 ext. 405 or email peoriacap@fsl.org.

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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