Struggling renters get one more month to figure out how to pay their rent, thanks to an extension of the national eviction moratorium in the new federal COVID-19 relief bill.
There’s also a new pot of federal money headed to Colorado just for rental assistance in the $908 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which became law Sunday night as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
But surviving as a renter or homeowner today is a lot different from last spring, when the first pandemic-induced eviction moratoriums went into effect.
Back then, Tricia White, a Woodland Park resident, opted for mortgage forbearance in March after she and her spouse lost their jobs. But with extra federal unemployment benefits through July, the couple continued making their mortgage payments through August. Now, after exhausting her unemployment benefits last week and still unable to return to work, she’s worried about what happens when forbearance ends in March.
“We haven’t missed a payment in like 15 years,” said White, who had a small antique business while her spouse was a poker dealer until the casinos shut down. “Our washing machine just broke last week and I’m like, you know what? We can’t even afford to go get another washing machine.”
She’s going to the laundromat until her financial situation improves.
There are few homeowner-assistance programs in Colorado. Homeowners can opt for a one-year mortgage forbearance on Federal Housing Administration-backed loans. The new federal relief bill extended the new application deadline to Feb. 28 though it did not extend the length of forbearance.
But the new federal COVID relief plan has set aside $25 billion for states to use on assistance for homeowners and renters struggling to pay their housing bills. Colorado’s share is estimated to be $383.3 million, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The state also replenished funding for its housing assistance programs. The Emergency Housing Assistance Program is available to tenants and homeowners, while the Property Owner Preservation program is for landlords who can request rent on behalf of their tenants.
As of Dec. 11, the tenant and landlord programs had paid out $27 million to cover rent for 17,350 households. But demand has grown tremendously, as more renters have used up savings or seen their unemployment pay end.
Help for renters
Pueblo renter Evelyn Duvall managed to keep paying her $650 monthly rent through August, thanks to extra federal unemployment pay. But unable to return to work at the Southern Colorado Gaming & Event Center, she hasn’t paid rent since then.
“I’m going to get an eviction here real soon,” she said. “I have a son who is disabled, and (we’re) going to be homeless.”
Her landlord appears to be understanding (“It’s his wife,” she said.) And when told about the landlord program, she was excited to share it with him.
“He’s a nice man,” she said. “I mean even for Christmas, he came over for Christmas and gave us a little bit of money.”
There is money now available. The state legislature put $54 million into the program about two weeks ago. Last week, the landlord program received $4.9 million in requests, and the volume has caused delays.
“We have seen demand quadruple in recent weeks for our Property Owner Preservation program,” said Alison George, the state director of housing in the Department of Local Affairs, in an email. “We are working to catch up on applications.”
The department says it is processing applications within three weeks, but sometimes a request takes longer if there is something wrong with the application or the payment request is incorrect.
“We then have to work with the landlord to correct the information provided, which takes time,” George said, adding that they hope to get back to “our standard two-week review time soon.”
Landlords face unpaid rent
The two state programs require input from both the tenant and landlord. If landlords don’t want to participate because they may want to get rid of a tenant, there’s little a tenant can do.
But the opposite is true, too, said Don Hamstra, chairman of Red Cloak Properties, which owns four apartment buildings in Aurora and Colorado Springs with about 130 units. One tenant wouldn’t cooperate even if it meant her rent would be paid by the state.
“She disappeared after not paying for six or eight months,” Hamstra said. “All she had to do was sign the papers on the way out and we could have at least gotten some help from the state. And to make matters worse, she did several thousands of dollars worth of damage to the apartment. And so even though legally we may have recourse, we won’t see that money. We’re trying to contact her to at least get her to sign.”
The state requires renters to fill out a legal declaration that they can’t pay the full rent because of a loss of income related to COVID-19. Without it, a landlord doesn’t qualify for the state rent assistance. But the tenant could be evicted.
Hamstra said evictions are a difficult process and doesn’t believe the company has evicted any tenants since the moratoriums went into effect in the spring.
“Most legitimate landlords really will work with people,” he said. “They don’t want to kick people out. Turnover is expensive.”
Colorado eviction moratorium ends Dec. 31
Actual evictions in Colorado are near all-time lows, according to data from the Colorado Apartment Association. Credit that to state and federal eviction moratoriums.
But it’s also about the reality of what happens when renters see a sudden drop in income: They move in with a friend or family member, they downsize to a more affordable apartment or they negotiate with their landlord.
Drew Hamrick, legal counsel for the apartment association, said the government should just let the market work instead of extending eviction moratoriums.
“When somebody enacts an eviction moratorium, all they’re really doing is saying one person needs to pay another person’s rent,” Hamrick said. “The market can sustain that for a brief period of time, but it can’t sustain that forever.”
He’s an advocate of the state Property Owner Preservation program because it allows landlords to get paid directly by the state.
“I actually think now that there is such a massive funding source available for assistance programs like this, it’s time for moratoriums to go away,” he said.
Renter advocates feel differently. Financial assistance combined with eviction moratoriums have helped people stay housed, said Carey Degenaro, an attorney who volunteers with Colorado’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
“A lot of folks say that once you have the rent relief, you don’t need the moratorium. But they’re really perfectly designed to work together,” Degenaro said. “The rent relief funds (and) the eviction ban … lead to the security that people need to get back to work and to find jobs. We really think they should be working together.”
In helping renters work with their landlords, Degenaro has noticed a recent uptick in clients who’ve exhausted unemployment benefits and, likewise, landlords who’ve been unpaid for months.
“The economy’s still suffering,” she said. “There’s still stay at home orders, a lot of businesses aren’t necessarily up to 100% staffing so we’re still seeing people low on hours. … One of the big concerns that everybody in the field has had is even with the eviction moratorium, people are coming up on January with potentially up to three to four, even some people who have had as many as six months of rental arrears.”
That means even when folks can return to work, they may be several thousand dollars behind in rent — and at risk for eviction because they cannot pay their back rent.
The Eviction Defense project hopes the funding can be to help people cover their rental arrears. And folks like Degenaro step in to negotiate more agreeable terms between landlords and tenants.
“Our philosophy would be try to settle the rental debt for potentially less than the full amount,” she said. “It goes further and it keeps the client housed. …That is definitely something that we think would be more effective in leading to both housing stability and helping tenants and landlords become a little bit more economically comfortable.”
Gov. Jared Polis extended the state’s most recent eviction order to Dec. 31. He hasn’t matched the federal one to Jan. 31. Based on the past, Polis often waits until just before the last order ends.
There was still no action from the Governor’s Office on Wednesday but officials provided this statement: “With Congressional action and the resources coming to Colorado from the federal bill, coupled with the state resources provided through the recent special session, we are reviewing whether any further administrative actions are necessary. Ultimately, the most important thing is for people to be able to keep up with their bills to stay in their homes, and this infusion of resources will assist renters and homeowners.”
But despite the federal eviction moratorium by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado really needs its own, said Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, the Adams County housing authority. The state one requires landlords to inform tenants that there is a moratorium — the CDC one doesn’t, he said.
“The executive order from the governor is a very important backstop to the CDC order,” LiFari said. “There’s no question that it’s the law of the land … It’s codifying it as law and clarifying it for Colorado judicial districts.”
And tenants need the extra legal help, he added. “You know, usually 90% of tenants do not have legal representation compared to about 90% of landlords who do,” he said. “The power balance is pretty skewed there.”
But as long as the pandemic continues and vaccines aren’t widely available, this will continue to be an issue faced by landlords and tenants and he hopes that the CDC or state eviction moratorium is extended into February.
“We need every week, frankly, really we need the CDC order to be expanded through the end of February, at a minimum,” he said. “I understand that there’s lots of challenges for all parties — landlords, tenants — but when we look at what’s happening, it’s the best mutually beneficial solution to keep folks housed, reduce the vector of the virus and try to keep landlords solvent as we navigate this jointly.”
Emergency Housing Assistance Program is a state funded program for renters and homeowners who need to get rents or mortgages paid during the pandemic. >> Details
Property Owner Preservation (POP) program is a state-funded program for landlords to apply for rent on behalf of their tenants. There are monthly rent limits. >> Details
Resident Relief Foundation is funded by the Colorado Apartment Association. Coloradans with a good rental history who have lost a job due to COVID or another illness, or have seen reduced incomes are encouraged to apply. There are no monthly rent limits. >> Details
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless provides assistance in finding permanent housing or keeping current housing. >> Details
Housing Now is Salvation Army’s housing program to assist those who face the loss of their housing or are already homeless. >> Details
Hilltop Family Resource Center: Provides aid with housing and other needs to folks in Grand Junction and Montrose areas. >> Details
Rent assistance programs by region (Aurora, Broomfield, Denver, Thornton, Jefferson County and more) >> Details
Colorado Foreclosure Hotline (877-601-HOPE) offers resources and options for mortgage holders falling behind. >> Details
This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 30 with a comment from the Governor’s Office.