Erika Joye, a resident of Lyons, peers in her storage container on August 11, 2021, after being evicted from her condo following her lease not being renewed. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
Thousands of evictions have been filed throughout Colorado since January, highlighting the gaps in both state and federal eviction protections put in place throughout the pandemic.
Between January and August, 13,212 evictions were filed across the state, with more than 73% of eviction filings submitted in Arapahoe, Adams, El Paso, Jefferson and Denver counties, according to state court data. Other countries, including Weld, Pueblo, Alamosa and Montrose, have also seen a high eviction filing rate compared to their renter population since January.
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The number of evictions filed throughout the pandemic is still significantly less than seen in non-pandemic years. For example, 36,421 evictions were filed in 2019 compared to 15,651 in 2020. But the number of eviction filings doesn’t accurately represent the number of people that have been displaced from their housing, because state data only captures when a case is filed with the court.
“What gets filed in court is the tip of the iceberg,” said Jana Happel, a staff attorney for Colorado Legal Services in Denver. “People self-evict all the way along the process.”
Eviction picture obscured
Colorado isn’t unique in its opaque picture of evictions. The U.S. government and most state governments do not collect detailed eviction data, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Instead, eviction records are housed within county court systems, as is done in Colorado.
A new Colorado law further obscures the picture by requiring courts to suppress records of eviction cases while they are moving through the court process and keeps them hidden if the tenant wins. Prior to the law going into effect, eviction filings, regardless of the outcome of the case, automatically created court records, which then could be acquired by third-party screening companies to produce tenant reports for landlords.
While the law is meant to protect tenants from having evictions that don’t go through from showing up on their record, it also obscures the picture of who is filing cases — and why — and who the court rules on.
“So you just can’t look at case records and try and say, like X percent are for nonpayment, X percent are for lease terminations and X percent are for other lease violations,” Happel said. “You just can’t do that research anymore.”
A patchwork of state and federal eviction protections on and off throughout the pandemic have shielded from eviction tenants who are behind on their rent. But evictions for nonpayment related issues — such as expiring leases or lease violations — have continued to go through.
“I think there’s still this gap in information about what the moratorium means and who it protects,” Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, associate state director for the working women’s advocacy group 9to5 Colorado, referring to the most recent federal moratorium. “And even though, yes (they) protect some people, it’s on a limited scope.”
Gaps in protections
Federal health officials announced on Aug. 3 a new, narrower moratorium on evictions through Oct. 3, which will protect struggling renters in areas of the U.S. that are seeing rising COVID-19 infection rates.
The new order protects renters behind on their payments who are living in counties with high or substantial rates of community COVID-19 transmission, or places with more than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. If cases drop, the eviction protections expire after 14 days, but the timeline could restart if transmission climbs back up again. A county is only exempt from the ban if it has a low to moderate transmission rate for two weeks or more.
The order still allows landlords to charge late fees or evict tenants for issues unrelated to missed rental payments.
The only Colorado eviction protection still in place gives tenants who have pending emergency rental assistance applications a 30-day period to get caught up on rent before their landlord can file an eviction against them. Once an eviction has been filed with the courts, landlords are not required to accept owed rent under current law.
If (COVID-19) cases are going up, that also likely means that more working class people are being impacted, potentially, either testing positive themselves or being exposed and therefore losing their income, or not being able to work.
– Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, with 9to5 Colorado
Guadarrama Trejo said the current CDC moratorium, and the previous protections, have caused wide-spread confusion among renters.
“If (COVID-19) cases are going up, that also likely means that more working class people are being impacted, potentially, either testing positive themselves or being exposed and therefore losing their income, or not being able to work,” she added.
She’s worried about the protections that are contingent on whether or not someone has applied for rental assistance.
“The funds are going to end,” Guadarrama Trejo said. It’s not a long-term solution, and the way that just the system is set up currently, you do have to have access to the internet, you do have to have access to all of this documentation. You do have to pretty much be fluent in English.”
“So there are really these large burdens and hurdles in place to actually even get this assistance, even if they qualify and even if they’re the vulnerable population that this was intended for.”
She said lack of affordable housing and rent increases are also making it more challenging for people to find an alternative if they are forced to vacate their home.
“At the end of the day when we knock on doors, the number one thing that people talk about is the cost of rent, and rent increases,” she said. “That is the number one issue that folks are concerned about.”
Eviction filings high in communities of color
Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, the public housing authority in Adams County, said he isn’t surprised that the county he works in has one of the highest eviction rates in the state.
“This is just the income equity gap right at the forefront,” he said. “Up until recently, folks didn’t know or didn’t understand the inherent volume and dynamics of evictions impacting low-income renters, especially (people of color) renters.”
People of color make up the majority of Adams County, according to the most recent census count. 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 and spend a larger portion of their incomes on housing costs.
In Colorado, 45% of white renter households are rent burdened, compared with 56% of Black households and 59% of Latinx households, according to a report from the National Income Housing Coalition.
“Low income community members, especially BIPOC community members, are paying more per square foot than market rate because there’s less supply,” LiFari said, referring to Black, Indigenous and people of color. “So, they’re competing for the same scarce resource, which drives up that square footage price.”
“So they’re already underwater, they’re already extremely housing burdened,” he added. “They just have no wiggle room.”
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