Phoenix family evicted after delays in rental assistance

PHOENIX – In December 2020, Shunera Brown, her 15-year-old twins and her nine-year-old daughter were all diagnosed with COVID-19.

Two of the children presented with what Brown described as “very mild symptoms.” But she and one of the twins were hit hard.

“Our tastes are gone. Our sense of smell is gone. And for me my back was horrible. Back spasms. Like sitting like that – it wasn’t possible for me. My body pillows were my best. friends, ”Brown said.

She was unable to work for three weeks and says being sick came at additional costs.

“I took it seriously. So I was not one of those people who still go to stores and put other people’s lives at risk,” she said. “Everything has been delivered. Cleaning supplies, groceries. Everything. I really haven’t been out for 20 days.”

Even after recovering physically and returning to work, she said she was never able to recover financially.

“I’ve worked the entire pandemic. I’m a working class woman. It’s just that I’m struggling. I’ve incurred extra bills during this pandemic,” Brown said.

She filed her CDC Eviction Protection Affidavit in February, but says she found a way to pay the rent, even though it was late.

But in April, it became a struggle. In May, Brown said he called 211 for rental assistance information and received the City of Phoenix phone number to apply.

“I called a number at least ten or more times a day to no avail,” she said.

Residents of Phoenix were supposed to be able to apply for emergency rental assistance related to the pandemic in two ways: make an appointment by phone directly through City of Phoenix Social Services or apply through Wildfire, a community action agency the city hired to handle online requests.

Brown told ABC15 she didn’t know the online application was an option until it was too late. On June 10, Wildfire stopped accepting online applications, saying it was overwhelmed. That left people with only one option to apply: call Monday, which is the only day that Phoenix sets up application appointments over the phone.

His first deportation hearing took place in June. Although a judgment was filed against her, she was not returned due to the CDC affidavit she filed. But in July, Brown’s landlord returned to court to challenge the affidavit, saying she had failed to prove she had applied for rent assistance.

But with the portal down and the inability to go through the phone to make an appointment, Brown said she had no way to apply when she needed it most.

It’s an argument she tried to make during her second deportation hearing on July 20.

“I racked my brains trying to find rental aid. Like I said, I tried to call several times. I couldn’t get through. I even went into the building. . The doors were locked, ”Brown told the judge. .

“Ma’am, the documents you have provided do not show that you have applied for rental assistance,” the judge said. “He (the landlord’s lawyer) asks you a direct question: What organizations have you applied to for rental assistance? “

Without proof of an application for rental assistance, the writ was granted. Brown’s family were evicted from their apartment on July 26.

In a statement, the city told ABC15: “We understand the stress of anyone involved in the eviction process like Ms Brown, and we are working to get money out as quickly as possible to meet the demand. overwhelming demand for help. “

The city hired a contract administrator in July to review the application process and “identify opportunities for improvement,” the statement said.

About $ 32 million of the $ 51 million Phoenix received in emergency rental and utility assistance has been disbursed, helping more than 10,700 residents according to the most recent figures.

But more than 2,600 online applications are still waiting to be processed, including Brown’s.

Although she said she was never able to speak to anyone, her candidacy was dealt with when Wildfire resumed accepting applications in August. However, depending on the confirmation email she received, it could take up to 90 days for it to be reviewed.

“The rental assistance program that has lasted for so long is defeating its purpose,” said Brown.

Following the review, in August, the City began hiring an additional 50 positions to help collect tenant documents, which is the longest part of the process according to officials. They also say that the hours of operation for the family service center, where appointments for in-person applications take place, extend to six days a week.

But for Brown’s family, the damage has already been done. With an eviction and rent arrears owed, no one will rent to them, and they are essentially homeless. Spend most nights between cheap motels and partially funded Airbnb homes. GoFundMe page started by friends.

“We’re just trying to stabilize ourselves in one place,” Brown said. “That’s the main focus for me and my kids because right now they’re learning from a distance. I hate it. Because they’re not getting what they need.”

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