Yuma has enough money to cover a third month of emergency rental assistance for those who might need it. Council heard an update on how the funds have been spent.

The city received $505,565 of additional Community Development Block Grant funds for use in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocation was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The council opted to use the majority of the funds for emergency rental assistance and some of the money to help nonprofits with urgent needs due to the impact of the virus on the community.

Council earmarked $370,000 for rental assistance, $85,000 for nonprofits, and $50,565, which is the standard 10%, for planning and administration. The members went with the staff recommendation of offering two months of emergency rental payments to landlords on behalf of tenants who document a loss of income as a direct result of a COVID-19 business slow-down or closure. To be eligible, tenants should have low to moderate income and not be receiving any other type of rental assistance under state or federal assistance programs.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched on April 20, and by April 22, the phones were ringing off the hook and the email box was full at Neighborhood Services, according to Rhonda Lee-James, assistant director of community development.

Lee-James updated the council on the program at the June 17 meeting. The city had received 140 applications and found 95 to be eligible for assistance, which were submitted to the Western Arizona Council of Governments program administrator. City staff takes the applications and forwards the paperwork from eligible applicants to WACOG, which then interacts with the landlords and cuts the checks.

The agency had paid cash or sent out vouchers to 42 landlords and made $78,279 in payments and committed $200,000 of the $370,000.

On average, applicants have an annual income of $29,000 for a family of four and pay an average of $767 in rent. The standard housing burden is 33%, however, applicants were found to be spending about 43% of their income on housing, not including utilities.

“They’re spending more for housing than they should and are probably having difficulties making ends meet,” Lee-James said.

The program had budgeted $1,200 per unit. “As it turns out, the folks asking for help are paying considerably less rent,” she noted.

Consequently, the city is able to help more people than expected. Therefore, Phase 2 of the program has been launched.

“We anticipate a need later in the summer if people don’t find their way back to work,” Lee-James said.

The federal unemployment supplement of $600 expires in July and almost everyone already received their stimulus funds, which they might have used to keep their rents paid. Perhaps some aren’t qualifying for unemployment because they don’t have enough quarters worked.

Some residents who didn’t initially apply for rental assistance might find themselves still out of a job and working reduced hours and now needing help paying the rent.

The goal is also to help landlords maintain their income. For some landlords, rental properties are their business.

However, because the rent amounts were not as much as anticipated, the city now has enough money to help with a third month of rent. CDBG guidelines allow emergency rent payments for up to three consecutive months.

They also authorize the use of the funds by public service agencies to address concerns related to COVID-19. The city awarded $90,565 in funds to nonprofit organizations:

• Arizona Housing Development Corp., $35,565 for special 12-week childcare with educational program at the Shine Center;

• Chicanos Por La Causa, $15,000 for personal protection equipment and sanitizing supplies for Yuma Early Childhood Development Center;

• Child & Family Services, $10,000 for residents’ share of the rent at the Right Turn for Yuma Veterans transitional home;

• Crossroads Mission, $20,000 for supplies for personal hygiene, shelter cleaning and disinfection and virus prevention at the homeless shelter;

• Healing Journey, $10,000 for mental health assistance for those needing help coping with virus impacts.

To reach Neighborhood Services, call 928-373-5187.

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