State and federal eviction moratoriums are set to expire at the end of the month, and it’s unclear whether officials will extend them into the new year.
During a media briefing on Friday, Gov. Jared Polis did not commit either way to renewing the statewide eviction moratorium, instead saying he’d follow the federal government’s lead. “We do plan to track closely with what the federal government is doing to avoid any confusion for landlords and tenants,” he said.
With pandemic-related economic uncertainty looming and 28% of Colorado adults being at risk of eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, housing experts and advocates are bracing for a fresh wave of eviction filings in January.
Though the number of evictions dropped significantly during the pandemic thanks to eviction moratoriums, housing assistance programs and bolstered unemployment benefits, many cases were still filed. Since March, there have been nearly 11,000 evictions filed throughout Colorado, according to data provided by the Colorado Judicial Branch and a Denver County Courts data analyst. During the same period last year, nearly 37,000 eviction cases were filed throughout the state.
The data from the state comes with some caveats — it doesn’t distinguish how many cases actually result in displacement or the number of people involved in each case. The data also doesn’t account for informal evictions, which occur when a tenant vacates a property without going through the formal court process. The true number of evictions is likely more than government data reflects.
“With evictions right now, it’s not just about the trauma of someone losing everything they have,” said Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, a housing organizer for the Colorado chapter of the national nonprofit 9to5.
“It’s also doing it during the middle of a pandemic where the biggest concern and the biggest advice to stop the spread is to isolate and to stay away from others,” she said. “So how are you supposed to do that when you have been evicted and displaced and you have nowhere else to go?”
Unclear how far state housing funds will stretch
In early December, state lawmakers approved approximately $54 million for rent and mortgage relief during a special legislative session focused on providing financial support for the hardest-hit Coloradans. The housing funds will be distributed through existing state programs such as the Emergency Housing Assistance and Property Owner Preservation programs run through the Department of Local Affairs.
Five million dollars will go towards a new Emergency Direct Assistance Grant Program to provide financial support to undocumented people living in Colorado who have been unable to access other assistance programs. These funds will be distributed through a network of nonprofits that have yet to be announced.
“This is a brand new program and this aspect has not been determined yet,” said Brett McPherson, a spokesman for DOLA, in an email. “We are working on guidelines, and many other details.”
To date, Colorado has received nearly $32.3 million dollars in CARES Act funds for housing and rental assistance during the pandemic, according to McPherson.
DOLA has received approximately 15,000 rental assistance applications, and 10,897 tenants have been approved for the funding as of Dec. 10. The department saw a surge in applications in the last few weeks for rental and mortgage assistance and there are approximately 4,000 applications still waiting to be reviewed, according to McPherson.
McPerson said that the new funds allocated by state lawmakers will help meet the state’s need, but he said it’s difficult to determine how far the funds will stretch.
“Based on the requests we’ve seen over the last few weeks, we estimate that it will last approximately 22 weeks,” he said on Thursday. “We have seen steady increases in requests, so it may be used up sooner.”
Zach Neumann, a lawyer who founded and directs the Colorado-based COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, remains worried about a potential flood of evictions come January. But he said a lot could still happen between now and then.
“They could choose to move, their landlords could find rental assistance dollars, they could be forgiven for some of that debt,” Neumann said. “A lot of things can happen once you’re in the risk category. But that’s an enormous number of people who don’t anticipate being able to pay.”
Nearly 58,000 adults in Colorado are not current on their rent or mortgage payments and eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey.
Neumann said the recently passed Colorado bill allocating more funds to housing assistance will help. But ultimately, he’d like to see Congress step in.
“The work the state Legislature did is really, really helpful. But based on our estimations, that will not cover the full amount needed,” Neumann said. “In order to close the remaining gap, we really need Congress to step in and provide ample financial support to families, either in the form of rental assistance, enhanced unemployment insurance or stimulus.”