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  • County assistance saves teacher, family after eviction

    Oct 08, 2020 | Read More News
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    Emilio Bustamante never thought he would end up like this. Evicted. Behind on everything. Sleeping in a car in a Walmart parking lot. A grand total of $44 in his bank account.

    It was August 31.

    The 47-year-old, a teacher in the Sunnyside Unified School District, has become something of the local face of the national crisis of rental assistance and eviction protection in the age of COVID-19. A hard-working family man who never received any kind of government assistance ran smack into a mountain of cascading misfortunes that could happen to almost anyone.

    His family suffered from COVID-19 early in the pandemic. His wife lost her job as a caregiver. He lost after-school and summer income because of the inability to work with students in person. He eventually lost two court cases, even though he thought he would be protected by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order to ban evictions for tenants experiencing financial and/or medical hardships due to the coronavirus.

    His application for rental assistance through the Arizona Department of Housing (ADOH) came too late, approved three days after his eviction.
    Emilio Bustamante
    Pima County stepped in with CARES Act funds available through its rapid rehousing program to supply first- and last-month’s rent, plus a security deposit, on a new rental house for his family. They moved in Oct. 7.

    “I didn’t want to go public,” said Bustamante, who lives with his wife, 25-year-old daughter, 15-year-old daughter and two grandchildren. “It’s embarrassing. But I wanted to get out the message. This isn’t about me. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I just want people to know I’m not an exception. This is going to happen.”

    Because of the unprecedented demand, Pima County has partnered with the Community Investment Corporation (CIC) to further serve those who happen to find themselves in similar circumstances as Bustamante. 

    The County is providing $3.625 million is CARES Act funding, while CIC works with community service partners to expand previous capacity problems in processing applications. This program is unique in two ways: 
    • It’s for tenants who are in some phase of the eviction process because of COVID-19 or would be if not for an eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That took effect Sept. 4 and runs through Dec. 31.
    • Landlords can apply on behalf of their tenants.
    “We are making changes to help motivated landlords assist their COVID-impacted renters and get paid!” said Daniel Tylutki, the deputy director of Pima County’s Community & Workforce Development (CWD) department.

    The County is working with CIC to make it as easy as, “one, two, three” for a property owner to apply on behalf of their renter to receive past rent directly into their bank account via an online portal.  

    “All we ask for is a copy of the lease and the executed payment plan identifying past rent due, a signed COVID Attestation Form from the tenant, and a picture of the renter’s state-issued ID,” Tylutki said. “Fifteen minutes with your renter can fetch past rent back to March. It’s a no brainer.”

    According to a Census Household Pulse Survey, taken from Sept. 2 to 14, this is how Arizona renters expressed confidence in the ability to pay the next month’s rent:

    No confidence – 7.3 percent
    Slight confidence – 13.9 percent
    Moderate confidence – 27.7 percent
    High Confidence – 50.2 percent

    “I’m not horrible with money, and I assure you there are many, many others who are going to be in my situation,” Bustamante said. “My advice: Start looking for help right now. Get educated.”

    Here’s what those in Pima County with less than high confidence about paying the rent because of COVID-19 should know:
    eviction notice
    • You are protected from eviction by the CDC but you must fill out this form and deliver it your landlord.
    • Apply for rental assistance at housing.az.gov or call 2-1-1. Your application will be processed by the Pima County Community Action Agency, which hired 25 additional staffers to handle applications that come through the ADOH portal.
    • If already in some phase of the eviction process, use this link (or ask your landlord) to apply for the County-partnered program with CIC.
    • More information about all these programs is available at www.pima.gov/RentHelp. On that page, find other possibilities about rent/utility assistance through Pima County Emergency Services Network agencies, as well as legal help, resources for employment and food banks, and much more.
    “We understand this is a stressful time for tenants impacted by COVID-19. That’s why the focus of our program with the CIC makes it user-friendly for the property managers,” said Manira Cervantes, program manager of the Community Action Agency. “We can even pay the rent forward.” 

    During the summer, because of the impact of COVID-19, the Bustamante family’s income plummeted from about $8,000 per month to about $200 a week while he hustled to sell at the weekend swap meet. He was stressed, exhausted. He borrowed money to rent a trailer after his eviction, and then accidently backed the trailer into his wife’s car. The air conditioner in his car went out. He tore his biceps tendon trying to move everything. Because of dehydration, he said he suffered a mini-stroke and landed in the emergency room.

    Now, Bustamante says he’s confident he and his family will get back on their feet. He is working. He has support. Pima County, led by efforts from Bonnie Bazata, the manager of the Ending Poverty Now program, worked with County community partners to find multiple helping hands, including money for a two-week hotel stay while the bulk of his family stayed in a small house with his mother.

    “Once Bonnie got involved, everything started to improve,” Bustamante said.

    The teacher of 23 years is eager to take what he has learned in the past several months and educate others about the process – serve on community boards, help put together and deliver “go-kits” to those facing evictions, maybe even start his own nonprofit. 

    Because he knows what happened to him can happen to almost anyone.

    Help is available.

    “I want to sound the alarms,” he said. “I don’t want you and your family to be homeless. I feel sorry for the landlords, too. It’s terrible. I get emotional just talking about it.”