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Many in Arizona struggle with utility bills and AC repairs. Here's where to get help

KJZZ News
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KJZZ News
Workers install a new air conditioner on a home in north Phoenix.

The triple digits have arrived in Phoenix. And those high temperatures bring pricey utility bills and added strain on air conditioners. But there are resources out there to help Arizonans keep their homes cool this summer.

Get help covering utility bills

Keeping your air conditioner running through a scorching Arizona summer costs a lot. And this year it will be even more expensive — Phoenix-area utility providers Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project have both raised rates since last summer.

“It’s a massive expense for a family or a senior living on a fixed income and struggling,” said Kelly McGowan, executive director of Wildfire, a nonprofit focused on issues impacting low-income Arizonans, including utility bills.

McGowan said Phoenix-area utilities do follow safety guidelines so no one’s power gets disconnected during dangerous heat.

SRP won’t shut off power for nonpayment July through August, or anytime there’s an excessive heat warning in effect.

And APS can’t shut off your power from June 1 through Oct. 15, under rules from the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Still, McGowan said, it’s best to stay on top of bills.

“We really encourage people to continue to pay what they can or seek assistance throughout those moratorium months, so they don't come out of the moratorium in October with thousands of dollars of bills that puts them behind,” McGowan said.

McGowan’s organization runs a statewide Home Energy Assistance Fund, which can help qualifying low-income Arizonans cover utility payments.

Arizonans can also get help with utility bills through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance program distributed byArizona’s Department of Economic Security.

If you do get behind on bills, reach out to your utility provider, McGowan said.

“All of the utilities, if you go into a nonpayment situation, have payment plans that they can put you on,” McGowan said.

In addition to that, APS has a new tiered rate system this year that can give up to a 60% discount on bills for the lowest-income customers, McGowan said. But customers must enroll in the program to take advantage of those discounts.

Get the air conditioner repaired at your rental

Electric bills are just one concern. What if your air conditioner stops working?

If you’re a renter, you have rights, according Stefanie Nader, program manager with the city of Phoenix’s Landlord Tenant Program.

“We always encourage tenants and landlords to call the Landlord Tenant program and have a phone or in-person appointment to really walk them through that process,” Nader said.

She said her office handles hundreds of calls per day during summer months from landlords and tenants trying to navigate AC repairs: “The summer is our busy season.”

Phoenix landlords are required by a city ordinance to provide a cooling system in good working order. It must cool the space to at least 82 degrees if it’s an air conditioner, or 86 degrees if it’s an evaporative cooler.

If it’s not working, Nader saidtenants should act quickly.

“It’s always super important to notify your landlord in writing what’s going on, that a repair needs to be made,” Nader said.

Nader said if the unit can’t be repaired right away, your landlord should help you with a short-term fix. That might be a portable AC unit or reimbursement of a hotel stay, up to 125% the cost of your rent.

“Something needs to happen, the landlord would need to choose what that would be,” Nader said.

Outside of Phoenix, different cooling ordinances may apply, but in general, Arizona landlords must keep any existing air conditioning units on the property in good working order. If you’ve notified your landlord a repair is needed and it has not been fixed within 10 days, you may be able to arrange for a licensed contractor to make the repair and deduct the cost from your rent under Arizona’s self-help repair statute.

As you wait for air conditioning repairs, Nader said, it’s important to get yourself and your family to a safe, cooled space. There are dozens of free, publicly available heat relief sites across Maricopa County, including a new 24-hour cooling center at Burton Barr Library in Downtown Phoenix.

Get help with the cost of repairing your own air conditioner

If you own your home and your AC needs repair or replacement, it can be very expensive — new air conditioning systems can cost $10,000 to $15,000. But there is more assistance for Arizona homeowners available this year than in years past.

McGowan’s organization, Wildfire, since 2016 has provided about $225,000 per year for AC repairs for low-income homeowners. This year, the organization has quadrupled its budget for the program. McGowan said $1 million will be available per year for that fund for at least the next three years.

“Last summer, the 12 participating agencies that administer those funds for us were just calling us constantly, ‘We need more funding, we’ve got seniors on fixed incomes with ACs going out,’” McGowan said.

She said there are already Arizonans on the waitlist for that service. But it’s just one of several funds available in the state.

Maricopa County started a program in 2021 to repair and replace ACs for low-income residents. The county reports it has served more than 700 households so far. That program has about $8 million in funding available through 2026.

The Arizona Department of Housing also distributes federal funding for home weatherization, which, McGowan said, can include repairing AC systems.

“There is a significant amount of funding coming down from the Inflation Reduction Act to help weatherize homes,” McGowan said.

Call 211 to find the heat relief services you need

But with so many different funding sources out there — from nonprofits, Maricopa County, and other government agencies, who should you call first?

“Every resource that is out there will be accessible through 211,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Her department this year is funneling more than $1 million into Arizona’s 211 helpline. That money is paying for bilingual operators specifically trained to connect people with heat relief resources.

“If a member of the community wants to have someone do a well check on a senior living by themselves, they can call 211 and be connected to resources to make sure that happens or if their air conditioner breaks, 211 can help them identify those resources,” Sunenshine said.

A quarter of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County last year happened indoors. Sunenshine said knowing where to turn when you’re having trouble keeping your home cool is critical.

“When I see it's getting hotter, all I think is we've got to move faster and we've got to get word out as far as we can so that people know exactly where they can turn if something happens that they end up experiencing extreme heat,” Sunenshine said.

Resources

211: Call 211 or visit the website for information about heat relief sites, utility assistance, air conditioning repair assistance, and more public services

Maricopa Association of Governments Heat Relief Network : Find cooling centers, respite centers, hydration stations, and donation collection sites across Maricopa County

City of Phoenix Landlord Tenant Program: To make an appointment, call 602-262-7210 or email [email protected]

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.