Riann Balch, Chandler’s community resources manager, said a senior in the city recently moved out of their home and into a car.
“They said the landlord raised their rent $300 and they didn’t know what else to do,” Balch said.
There are more stories like that. Part of Balch’s mission is to help keep Chandler residents in their home. The federal government established the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help do that during the pandemic.
So far, Balch said they’ve been able to help 741 Chandler households with their first grant of $7.95 million. The city asked for, and received, $7 million additional funds in December that it is just starting to hand out.
That money came from grants approved during the Trump administration. The city also received $6.3 million for the program from money approved during the Biden administration.
The two funds come with different requirements so the city keeps them separate.
That’s more than $21 million in federal funds to help keep Chandler residents in their homes. To qualify, the pandemic must have played some role in why the family needs assistance.
“That’s fairly flexible, and far ranging,” she said.
For example, a family might need help because of increased child care costs or lost employment because their child keeps being sent home from school for 10 days every time another student tests positive.
Balch said that 68 percent of applicants for emergency rental housing assistance are approved. The rest either do not finish the application process or it is determined they don’t qualify.
Another factor that could lead to people losing their homes is the high cost of rent in Chandler.
A report out this month by the rental website Zumper says the average monthly rent in Chandler is $1,610, which is 20th highest in the nation. That’s the second highest in Arizona. Scottsdale is 10th at $1,950.
“I think what’s happening in Chandler, you can be working and still not be able to afford your rent,” Balch said.
Balch said she has seen a spike in the number of what she called immediate evictions.
Data from the Maricopa County Justice Courts show that eviction filings are rising now that the moratorium on them no longer exists, but they are still not at pre-pandemic levels.
Court spokesman Scott Davis said that filings in the San Marcos Justice Court in Chandler totaled 2,028 in 2021 and 495 for the first two months of this year.
County-wide, the justice courts are seeing a steady increase in the total judgment for eviction filings with average judgments rising 70.5 percent between 2019 and 2021, from $1,992 to $3,277.
“Demand has become so tight as leases came to end, it is not atypical to see a landlord raise the rent $300 to $500,” Balch said.
One of the major criticisms of the program nationally is how long it has taken to get the money into the bank accounts of the people who need it. Balch said that has not been a problem in Chandler.
She said at first, they rolled out the program without the details of what the reporting system would be like. When those details came out, they were so onerous that it made it difficult for any municipality to deal with quickly.
Chandler relied on the nonprofit AZ-CEND to administer the program at first. However, after they learned about the reporting requirements, they switched to Maricopa County.
“They had invested in a really capable database that handled those requirements,” Balch said.
She said any delays now are probably because the resident applying has yet to submit all the documentation needed, saying it has taken some as long as three months to do so.
They also prioritize each case based on need, so some who have a higher income may experience a slight delay while others with more pressing needs are helped.
In addition to help with the rent, the program can also be used to pay utility bills. Balch said they look at both areas when someone applies.
They also offer housing stability services. Balch said they have two case managers who work with families directly.
“Someone could have just been evicted and needs to find housing, and it’s really not easy to do after you’ve just been evicted,” she said. “They work with people who are already homeless to get them back into a home, or people on the verge of being homeless.”
Balch said those two case managers have worked with about 80 families so far. Their staff has taken a couple hundred calls and directed residents to resources that might be able to help them.
“At this point, they’re in a crisis,” Balch said. “Being evicted is extremely traumatic. We help them get their life back on track.”