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  • Local moms help build eviction-prevention website

    Jul 18, 2019 | Read More News
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    Thankfully, Raquel Sutton was never evicted from her home, but on two different occasions she was served with eviction notices. That gave her an up-close look at a scary process for tenants facing an eviction.

    It’s why Sutton, a 27-year-old mother of one, assisted staff and students in the Innovation for Justice Program in the University of Arizona College of Law with designing a website that enables tenants to write to their landlords about potential problems with paying their rent.

    UA law students teamed up with students from Brigham Young University women like Sutton, who is part of Pima County’s Mothers in Arizona Moving Ahead program, to create the Hello Landlord site. Designed for tenants who are having trouble paying their rent, the free online tool helps renters write a proactive, respectful letter to their landlords outlining their financial issues.

    Stacy Butler, director of the Innovation for Justice Program, has been working with the BYU students for a year to create the letter-generating tool, which is available in English and Spanish. She’s also a founding member of Step Up to Justice, a free civil legal center for low-income individuals and families in Pima County.

    "Having the ability to connect Innovation for Justice students with MAMAs on our eviction prevention project was an invaluable experience for the students,” Butler said. “The MAMAs were so willing to share their personal stories and had such powerful insights from their lived experiences.  It was wonderful to see the students and MAMAs re-connect during subsequent meetings, and ultimately Hello Landlord is a better tool because of the expertise the MAMAs shared.”

    This spring, the Ending Poverty Now initiative and Pima County Library organized a panel discussion on the growing problem of evictions with County officials teaming up with Butler's program and several others to dig deeper into this critical issue 
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    When families pay as much as 70 percent of their income on housing, it’s not surprising when a missed rent payment and, eventually, eviction result. Indeed, last year in Pima County, more than 13,000 evictions were filed in court. Many more never even make it through the legal process. The rising cost of housing and the shrinking number of affordable housing units is making the problem worse.

    Bonnie Bazata, who heads the County’s Ending Poverty Now program, said the input from women in the MAMA program was crucial in helping students design the letter-writing tool. MAMA is a collaboration between County’s Community Services, Employment and Training Department and the Pima County Health Department, to address the health and financial concerns of mothers in poverty.

    “I think the students would agree that the perspectives our moms brought to the process was really crucial in building this letter-writing site,” Bazata said. “Students know the law and the technical side of things, but our moms offered a glimpse into the reality of housing instability and evictions.  They gave valuable feedback as an end-user.”

    Sutton, who said she has several relatives who have gone through evictions, thinks the letter-writing tool will be helpful to tenants who – in the midst of crisis -- may not have the ability to write their own letter.

    “This letter building tool will allow them to present an articulate letter, giving the landlord a sense of understanding and even security,” said Sutton, who has completed a Behavioral Health Services certificate and is now working as a membership specialist at CODAC. 

    Added Bazata: “Our work on this project and the panel discussion earlier this year with landlords demonstrated that there are property owners who want to work with their tenants. An eviction is an expensive and time-consuming process for everyone involved. It can be a saving for both sides if they can avoid an eviction and agree on a payment plan or some other alternative.” 

    Butler agreed. 

    “We are hopeful that Hello Landlord will offer a chance for tenants and landlords to engage and communicate before a housing issue becomes an eviction, and help prevent homelessness for the tens of thousands of people who are evicted each year in this country."

    Sutton thinks anyone in danger of an eviction should use the Hello Landlord site.

     “The best advice I can give someone facing an eviction is communicate with your landlord because you never know how far they are willing to go to assist or work with you.”