Thousands of Coloradans await rental assistance as eviction moratorium expiration looms

The federal eviction ban, established in September, is set to expire July 31

By: - July 27, 2021 5:00 am

A row of houses and apartments in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood on October 28, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado distributed $11.4 million in rental assistance in June — more than the previous five months combined. But thousands of households are still awaiting payments for approved rental assistance as the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium looms less than a week away.

The federal eviction ban, established in September 2020, is set to expire on July 31, with no indication from the White House or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the moratorium will be extended. Another protection that’s set to expire at the end of the month is an executive order issued by Gov. Jared Polis that gives tenants 30 days — not 10 — to get caught up on rent before a landlord can file an eviction.

“I think what’s really frightening about the situation is that you have hundreds of millions of dollars that are ready to go,” said Zach Neumann, co-founder and executive director of the Colorado-based COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “But you have people who don’t know about it, or you have people who are trying to access it, but it takes time.”

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Colorado was allocated $247.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for emergency rental assistance. State lawmakers also allocated $54 million in December towards the state’s emergency housing assistance programs. Local governments have also received additional state and federal funding for housing assistance programs.

Though the number of households that received rental assistance hit an all-time high in June, thousands of households that have been approved are still waiting on their payments. The exact number of households is difficult to determine because the state’s rental assistance reporting dashboard doesn’t distinguish between applications that have been approved versus people that have actually received their rental assistance payments.

The dashboard says approval/payment, and it looks really high. It looks like they're doing great. But you can't tell how many payments have been made. And we have clients who are just nervous as hell for August 1 because they've been approved months ago.

– Jana Happel, staff attorney with Colorado Legal Services, discussing the state's rental assistance dashboard

“The dashboard says approval/payment, and it looks really high,” Jana Happel, a staff attorney for Colorado Legal Services in Denver, referring to the state’s rental assistance reporting dashboard. “It looks like they’re doing great. But you can’t tell how many payments have been made. And we have clients who are just nervous as hell for August 1 because they’ve been approved months ago.”

Discrepancies with the state’s rental assistance reporting dashboard

A spokesperson with the Department of Local Affairs told Newsline in an email on Monday that the dashboard was under construction and wouldn’t be updated until sometime in August. But the dashboard was updated later on July 26 after not being updated in 20 days.

Before the dashboard was updated, it showed that $57.2 million had been approved in rental assistance between January and June 2021. After the update, the dashboard showed $48.7 million for the same time frame — a difference of $8.5 million. According to data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Colorado paid out $19.9 million in rental assistance from January through June 2021.

Happel said the whole point of Polis’ executive order and the federal eviction moratorium was to buy state and local entities more time to get the historic amount of rental assistance funds out the door.

“Imagine how many people’s housing could be saved if that money gets out, before the moratorium expires,” Happel added.

“Now it looks like the worst is going to happen. All that money is mostly in the bank. The states are pushing out very little for a variety of reasons,” Happel said. “We’re not talking about onerous (regulations) or tenants dragging their feet or landlords, we’re talking about people who are approved and now we just need to cut the check. And they can’t explain to us why they’re not spending the money that’s just sitting in the bank.”

No one from the Department of Local Affairs was made available to answer questions from Newsline regarding the state’s rental assistance dashboard.

State auditors are currently taking a closer look at Colorado’s rental assistance programs, specifically around the administrative costs associated with distributing pandemic relief funds and how well the state’s Property Owner Preservation Program has operated. The two audits are expected to be published in September and October.

Coalition encourages Polis to take executive action

A coalition of elected officials, organizations and housing advocates sent a letter to Polis on Monday urging him to slow the eviction process for people who have been approved for rental assistance but are waiting for the payment.

Republican and Democratic mayors who signed onto the letter include those from Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Castle Pines, Denver, Edgewater, Golden, Lafayette, Northglenn, Thornton, Westminster and Wheat Ridge. Other supporters included officials from school districts, Children’s Hospital of Colorado, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Denver Department of Public Health Environment and Mental Health Center of Denver. 

Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, said in an email that “the Governor and his team review all input including letters and appreciate the engagement of so many Coloradans on this important issue.”

Happel said that even if the eviction process was slowed for renters that have assistance funds in the pipeline, there is still the issue that landlords are not required to accept rent payments after an eviction is filed with the court. A bill signed into law this year, Senate Bill 21-173, changes that by allowing tenants to pay back their rent at any time until a court has issued a judgement for possession. But the law doesn’t take effect until Oct. 1.

A graph provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development depicting risk of eviction for renters during the pandemic.

Currently, 40.5% of Colorado adults — a huge jump from 25.5% in early June — are living in households that are not current on their rent or mortgage payments and where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey estimates that 78,971 Colorado adults fall into this category.

Black and brown households have been disproportionately impacted by the state’s housing crisis, according to the state’s data. Renters who identify as Hispanic or Latino represent 31.4% of rental assistance applications, while only making up 21.8% of Colorado’s population. Similarly, renters who identify as Black or African American make up 13.9% of  applications and only represent 4% of the state’s population.

Due to longstanding income inequality along racial lines in the U.S. — a product of ongoing discrimination, unequal job opportunities and systemic racism — Black and Latino households make up a disproportionate amount of the rental market. In 2018, 27% of U.S. renters were white, compared with 55% of Latino households and 59% of Black households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Eviction filings steadily increase

Since Jan. 1, 12,683 evictions have been filed around the state as of July 25, according to data from the Colorado Judicial Branch and Denver County Court. Denver alone accounts for nearly 25% of the filings with 2,499 cases.

Happel, with Colorado Legal Services, said she expects to see a spike in eviction filings once the federal eviction moratorium expires, similar to what was seen in January.

“Through the pandemic, there’s been ebbs and flows with the different holes and the changing of orders and things like that,” she said. “We’re expecting to see a lot.”

In comparison to other states, when it comes to distributing rental assistance Colorado appears to be the middle of the pack, Neumann said. He participated in a White House roundtable last week regarding rental assistance and evictions. “There’s certain states that have been faster. There are also a lot of states that have basically moved none of the money.”

“People are trying hard to figure this out, it’s just, it’s really hard to do with the federal rules. They don’t make it easy and it takes time, and they’re just real hurdles,” Neumann said. “I think the slowness is largely a product of those challenging federal guidelines and not because anyone has not moved quickly or not worked hard.”

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Moe Clark
Moe Clark

Moe Clark is a former Colorado Newsline reporter that covered criminal justice, housing and homelessness, and other social issues.

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