Denver gives initial approval for $1.1 million for low-income eviction legal defense fund

The funds are expected to serve 1,800 households over three years, or 600 per year, which covers only a fraction of the demand

The Denver City and County Building at 1437 Bannock St. in Denver, seen on Aug. 5, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

A potential infusion of cash pending approval from Denver City Council would allow more low-income renters in Denver who are facing potential eviction to access free legal advice and representation.

A Denver City Council committee on Wednesday gave the first approval for a three-year, $1.1 million contract between the city’s Department of Housing Stability and Colorado Legal Services to provide eviction legal assistance to eligible low-income households. The resolution needs final approval from the broader city council.

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The funds are expected to serve 1,800 households over three years, or approximately 600 per year. Historically, the program has been run by two full-time attorneys and one paralegal. This year’s funding adds another paralegal.

“This equates to about a little over $700 per household and each of the two attorney’s carry a caseload of about 250 households per year,” said Melissa Thate, Denver’s housing stability director, who presented the contract to council members during a Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness Committee meeting on Feb. 3.

To qualify, an applicant must be a resident of Denver with a household income below 200% of the federal poverty line. For an individual, the income limit is $25,760 a year, and for a family of four, it’s $53,000. Seniors of all incomes are eligible for the program.

In 2019, the program served 601 households and in 2020 it served 558, according to Thate.

The number of households the program expects to serve every year is still only a fraction of the demand. A snapshot of data compiled by the Denver County Courts shows that of the 500 eviction cases filed between Sept. 4 and Oct. 19, 498 landlords had representation while only 24 tenants had a lawyer present. Of the 1,083 evictions filed during the same time period in 2019, 1,081 landlords had legal representation, while only 23 tenants in those same cases did.

The eviction legal assistance fund was established by Denver City Council in 2018 as a pilot program. At the time, research indicated that tenants in the city were only represented by an attorney in 1% to 3% of cases, while landlords were presented 100% of the time. Due to federal laws, Colorado Legal Services has some limitations for representing undocumented people.

Facing eviction? Here’s some helpful resources:

Get legal advice or request representation: Tenants who have received an eviction notice from a landlord may contact Denver’s Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection at 720-944-2498 or [email protected] to be connected with financial and legal services. They can also apply directly on the Colorado Legal Services website.

Fill out a CDC Declaration Form and send it to your landlord: In order to be legally protected under the federal eviction moratorium, which currently expires on March 31, 2021, tenants must fill out this declaration form and submit it to their landlord. (The moratorium does not cover people with expired or month to month leases.) Tenants are also able to submit the form when they show up for court.

Are you undocumented and need assistance navigating the eviction process?: The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project provides free legal aid and representation to tenants facing eviction and other housing issues related to COVID-19 hardship, regardless of citizenship status. Start by filling out this form. The nonprofits 9to5 Colorado and Colorado Poverty Law Project also provide legal support for housing issues.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:51 p.m., Feb. 12, 2021, to clarify the limitations on Colorado Legal Services representing undocumented people. The headline and story was previously updated to state that the resolution is still pending final approval from Denver City Council.