Vikki Miller began 2020 with a divorce. Then the coronavirus started spreading in Colorado. Now she faces homelessness.
The Colorado Springs resident stopped working as an Uber driver in March and hasn’t returned because her immune system is compromised. She’s been unable to find a new gig that lets her work safely at home. In September, her unemployment benefits stopped for no obvious reason. She hasn’t paid rent for two months and she knows that’s tough on her landlord, who planned to send her an eviction notice this month, she said.
“I’m just nervous because she really wants her money. I understand that, but I can’t give (her) the money, you know?” said Miller, who adopted her 9-year-old grandson three years ago, after his mother died. “And then if I’m evicted, I’m supposed to be in quarantine. I don’t know how that’s supposed to work.”
More than seven months into the pandemic, the financial strain has been brutal on all sides of the rental housing market. A growing number of tenants didn’t pay rent last month, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, and many others aren’t confident they can make next month’s payment, says the Census Household Pulse Survey.
Meanwhile, apartment owners face their own crises. The mom-and-pop landlords who rent out older and often more affordable small complexes were less likely to receive federal aid in the form of forbearance for federally-backed mortgages. And only about one-third of smaller property owners have federal loans, said Bob Pinnegar, President and CEO of the National Apartment Association.
“This is the group that is usually the least capitalized and the most subject to the wounds of what happens in the market,” Pinnegar said. “They’re the ones that I’m worried about because we went into this with an affordable housing crisis across the country. If we lose a significant portion of those to foreclosures, we’re going to have a doubly hard time dealing with affordable housing in a post-COVID world.”
A recent national survey of 1,370 landlords found that 38.1% didn’t receive the full rent for October, up from 35.2% in September, according to Avail, a company that helps smaller landlords manage their properties. Landlords also reported an increasing vacancy rate, while 30.9% were feeling pressure to sell the property, especially with eviction bans that restrict a landlord’s options for collecting rent.
As renters and landlords are finding out, there is help out there.
Rev. John Anderson, a pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada, has a single tenant at his rental property in southern Colorado. He became a proactive landlord after learning his tenant had lost his job.
“When I checked in with him (in September), he was breaking into his 401(k) to pay rent, which is a sad reality,” said Anderson, who then discovered the Property Owner Preservation program, which encourages landlords to apply for rent payments for tenants who can’t afford it. “We were able to take advantage of that for the month of October. He was so relieved to have that covered. He’s still unemployed. We’ll try again in November.”
Need rent help?
Miller, the Colorado Springs renter, hadn’t heard that Gov. Jared Polis signed another 30-day eviction moratorium. It’s reserved for tenants who face financial hardships and who sign a declaration to prove it. Equipped with the new information, she spoke to her landlord so everything is now on hold for 30 days.
She also learned about the nonprofit 2-1-1 helpline and is getting help with utility bills for the rest of the year. She’s grateful for the support and understands that unpaid rent has hurt her landlord. She just doesn’t want to be homeless at a time like this.
“I’m gonna be facing (the bills) again at the beginning of the year,” Miller said. “But at least I have a few months to figure out if I can return to some kind of work versus right now, where I can’t even focus on that because I’m trying to figure what’s going to happen with my day-to-day needs.”
Impact of eviction bans
The immediate impact of eviction moratoriums? Fewer evictions.
In Colorado, evictions dropped 50% when Polis’ first eviction moratorium went into effect March 20, according to Colorado Apartment Association data compiled from state court filings. For the past decade, the state has seen 3,000 to 4,000 evictions per month. In April, there were 97.
The numbers began climbing again after the moratorium ended in early June. Still, evictions were only about a quarter of the number reported in June 2019. July’s came in at one-third while August’s was about half. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted most evictions nationwide until the end of the year. But word of the ban spread slowly. In September, Colorado had 2,073 evictions, or 72% of the number from a year earlier.
The numbers dropped again last month and as of Oct. 22 were about one-third the norm. Polis’ new eviction ban was issued Oct. 21.
“The most effective policy responses to eviction risk and housing instability for renters include both eviction bans, which buy people time, as well as cash assistance, which enables folks to pay their rent and enable landlords to pay their mortgages,” said Sam Gilman, cofounder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project in Colorado, which provides legal resources for struggling tenants. “The two of those things together are really important.”
Most apartment industry organizations don’t quite agree. They oppose eviction moratoriums, including Colorado’s new one, which still lets landlords evict unruly tenants and is not rent forgiveness. Tenants who sign a declaration that they face financial hardship due to COVID must pay past-due rent as agreed on with their landlord. Otherwise, it’s all due Jan. 1.
Drew Hamrick, with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, called the latest state eviction ban “problematic by mistake and not necessarily intention,” because it doesn’t take into account people who are gaming the system or when leases expire. He said the CDC ban allowed landlords to dispute a tenant’s truthfulness of their declaration that they can’t pay rent because of economic hardship caused by COVID.
“The other big difference is the Colorado order now extends those protections to people (whose) contract is just plain expired, which, in our view, was never meant to be protected by the CDC moratorium,” said Hamrick, who serves as the organization’s general counsel and senior vice president of government affairs.
The predicted “eviction tsunami” also hasn’t occurred. Last spring, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project predicted that 420,000 Coloradans were at risk of eviction by September and communities of color would be impacted at greater rates.
In reality, there have been 8,199 evictions since March. Evictions are a tedious legal process that can take months. And the data doesn’t count renters who move out before the process begins.
“We shouldn’t be going backwards,” Hamrick said. “What we’re trying to manage is a soft landing. And we’re getting there real nicely with high levels of rent payments and low levels of evictions. I really do think that some advocates for the other side have scared policymakers into thinking something’s going on when it’s just plain not going on.”
Gilman, who helped develop the report, said the tsunami prediction was calculated based on the massive jump in unemployment in the spring and the expiration of eviction moratoriums in September. It was also about eviction risk, not an actual eviction. Residents who don’t pay their rent within 10 days after the end of the month are at risk for eviction. When that happens, renters tend to work on a plan with their landlords or find a roommate, or move out rather than stick it out through the eviction process, he said.
Colorado saw a record 104,217 new claims for regular unemployment in the first full week of April. That number has declined to about 6,000 for the week ended Oct. 24 as businesses reopened and people returned to work. But as of Oct. 17, about 221,036 people were still receiving some sort of continued unemployment benefit.
“We have seen a faster-than-expected economic recovery to date, which has pushed projections of eviction risk towards the low end of that range,” Gilman said, adding that the analysis uses data from the new Census Household Pulse surveys that started in April to measure coronavirus impact. “However, a lot is uncertain with increased (coronavirus) cases, no federal rental or unemployment assistance, and business shutdowns or slowdowns on the horizon with winter coming. Just as we lowered these numbers in response to an improving economic picture, we will continue to revise these numbers as conditions change through the winter.”
The vast majority of renters dutifully paid their rents each month during the pandemic, with landlords reporting collection rates of 92.6% to 95.4% since April, according to the Colorado Apartment Association.
But for most of that time, if renters lost their jobs, they received unemployment benefits plus a bonus federal payment of $300 to $600 per week. That extra income ended Sept. 5. And Congress hasn’t been able to agree on a new stimulus package since March.
Other sources have stepped in to fill the gaps for both tenants and landlords. Colorado in particular used $19.65 million of its federal CARES Act money to fund emergency relief programs for both. An additional $2.6 million was added last week to the aforementioned landlord program, which is run by the state’s Division of Housing in the Department of Local Affairs.
“Housing insecurity has become one of the most concerning byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” DOLA Executive Director Rick M. Garcia said in a statement.
As of Oct. 16, 1,301 renters benefited from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance program for a total payout of $3.1 million. At the same time, the Property Owner Preservation program, which allows landlords to request money to pay the rent of tenants with financial hardship, has doled out $9.9 million to landlords to help 6,423 tenants. Landlords and tenants can apply for the assistance at cdola.colorado.gov/rental-assistance.
This helps landlords get paid even if their tenants are avoiding the landlord because of the inability to pay rent. It also helps a part of the community that was largely excluded from federal relief, Anderson pointed out.
“One of the big benefits is that this allows rent assistance for people who are undocumented because their funds are going directly to the landlord rather than the tenant,” he said. “So there’s no questions about whether or not the tenant is a documented resident. That’s a big part of our community that’s been skipped over.”
With no new federal relief in sight, Gov. Polis also announced last week that the state would use $163 million in unspent Medicaid dollars and disaster emergency funds to provide a one-time $375 payment to many people who are still unemployed. The payment will be sent in early December.
Community philanthropy has also stepped up efforts to bridge that gap. Energize Colorado, which has raised $31 million, is a mix of federal CARES Act funding, state money and private donations. Last month it awarded $6.7 million in grants to 500 businesses and is now working on round two.
There’s also the 2-1-1 program, a statewide service run by nonprofits like Mile High United Way. It connects callers to more than 8,000 resources from health care and housing to legal advice and job services. Before the pandemic, a large chunk of the calls to 2-1-1 were older adults asking about health care. As the pandemic began, food requests jumped to the top. Now, housing, utilities and food assistance dominate calls.
“Housing assistance has consistently remained the top need each month through this pandemic, outpacing other needs by more than twice,” Stephanie Sanchez, Mile High United Way 2-1-1 statewide senior director, said in an email.
Landlords have also stepped up to help their tenants to avoid evictions, said Pinnegar, with the National Apartment Association. According to surveys of its landlord members, 71% said they’ve worked with their tenants to waive late fees, set up payment plans or accept payments throughout the month.
“By and large, we haven’t seen the evictions because if you’re having conversations with your residents (then) eviction is not the first place you’re going to go,” Pinnegar said. “Typically, an eviction situation is when somebody ghosts on the property owner and they have no idea what’s going on and won’t respond. And they have no choice but to assume the worst.”
Anderson, the Arvada landlord, has been supporting Coloradans for the Common Good to work with lenders and government officials to figure out how private banks can work with landlords on forbearance or payment alternatives for their own mortgages.
“There seems to be recognition of this need that in order to enable landlords to provide rental assistance or deferred rent, we needed to help the landlords have resources themselves,” Anderson said. “Where there seemed to be reluctance was around taking mortgage forbearance as a landlord. It’s not so much that landlords were resistant to that, but they were getting pushback from their lenders. If they were to take forbearance, it would impact their future lending or borrowing capabilities.”
But many say that what has really helped landlords collect rent was the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment relief paid to those who had lost their jobs. The state has paid $2.49 billion of this Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to jobless Coloradans since March 29. The extra payments ended on July 25.
“We definitely need a federal investment in rental assistance to stabilize renters, to give them cash to pay their landlord so the landlords can pay their mortgage,” said Gilman with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “And the federal government has been really absent. At the end of the day, the rental crisis in America is going to continue to deepen until we can solve some of the really large amounts of debt that has built up.”
Help for renters
The state of Colorado and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have eviction bans that prevent landlords from kicking out tenants who can’t pay rent because their income declined due to COVID. Late fees cannot be charged through Dec. 31. (See other criteria).
To qualify, fill out this declaration (see other languages here) and share it with your landlord. Those who fill out the form falsely risk fines and jail time. This prevents evictions through the end of the year. But tenants still will owe back rent.
If you get an eviction notice, your landlord must give you 30 days notice under the current state order (compared to 10 days absent the order).
- Colorado Division of Housing provides rental or mortgage assistance through the Emergency Housing Assistance Program
- Resident Relief Foundation, from the Colorado Apartment Association, provides cash grants to tenants to help pay rent. Donations accepted. >> Apply here: aamdhq.org/covid-19-resident-relief
- Emergency Housing Assistance Program — Brothers Redevelopment, which provides affordable housing, offers help with rent and rental assistance. >> brihousingassist.org
- Call 2-1-1 or visit 211colorado.org to get help in your city with rent, food, utilities and other bills.
- Mobile home residents can file a dispute resolution here: https://cdola.colorado.gov/mobile-home-park-dispute-resolution
- The Colorado Apartment Association’s list of regional housing help: caahq.org/main/colorado-housing-financial-assistance
- Rent assistance programs by region (Aurora, Broomfield, Denver, Thornton, Jefferson County and more) >> Details here
Help for landlords
The eviction moratorium does allow some evictions. If a tenant poses an “imminent and serious threat” or causes significant property damage, the tenant can be evicted.
Unless the orders are extended, landlords can begin the eviction process for tenants who haven’t paid their rent due to COVID after Dec. 31. Missed rent is due on Jan. 1. A repayment agreement should be discussed.