Colorado’s housing assistance program, which has provided $58.9 million in rent or mortgage help during the pandemic, will be placed on hold starting Friday as it waits for new federal funds to aid struggling homeowners, according to the state Department of Local Affairs.
The rent-assistance programs, however, will continue under a different name in order to distribute federal funding available only to renters. That program, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program began taking applications on Tuesday. It replaces the state’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, or EHAP, for tenants and the program for landlords, called Property Owners Preservation, or POP.
The change comes about a month after the DOLA hired contractors from HORNE, a Mississippi-based emergency services organization, to help process a record number of applications. Those flooded the office in January after the state eviction moratorium ended Dec. 31, though a ban on late fees remained in effect. The state had used up the $54 million provided for housing programs provided during the state legislature’s special session in December.
“With the increased pace of funding approvals, we must transition to the federal funds sooner than we had expected,” said Alison George, the state director of housing in the Department of Local Affairs, in an email update. “These federal funds require us to collect much more information from tenants, including income documentation and demographics, than we collected for the POP program.”
The POP program was deemed highly successful by landlords because they could apply on behalf of several struggling tenants at the same time. Renters whose landlords didn’t want to participate were allowed to apply directly to EHAP in January.
According to state data, about 26,787 applications have been approved and paid with another 2,795 denied, as of March 21.
But another 20,500 folks are still waiting to hear whether they will get rent payments approved for help before their landlord kicks them out. The national eviction moratorium, which provides a delay for those who suffer an income loss, ends March 31.
Those who are still waiting on older applications aren’t out of luck. The agency will continue to process those even as the new ERAP takes new applicants, said DOLA. ERAP is being funded by about $247 million that was part of the federal relief plan passed by Congress in December.
Because of the backlog, the state set up a hotline at 1-888-480-0066 last month for people to check on the status of their applications.
Brett McPherson, a spokesman for DOLA, said the backlog “is down to within the three to six week range, when there aren’t any issues holding up the approval.”
Some folks, like Bobbie Barr, who for health reasons quit her job as a gig driver when the pandemic began last year, have been checking regularly for weeks.
“(Wednesday was) eight weeks since I submitted my application,” said Barr, who rents a room in Elizabeth. “I called the number again and again there was no one available to take my call. I left a message this time.”
A free eviction prevention workshop on March 25 at 6 p.m. is being organized by the housing community. RSVP here.
McPherson said that the customer service hotline has been overwhelmed. And HORNE has moved an analyst who normally processes cases to help out with the hotline, plus it has other analysts working on responding to email inquiries.
The contractor, which specializes in offering administrative help in a disaster, also hired three customer service staff last week and is adding more analysts to process applications.
“As the backlog reduces, the pressure on the customer service lines will also reduce,” he said. “DOH is monitoring responses from the customer service line for quality control.”
When the mortgage assistance will return remains unknown. However George shared that money is expected from the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress earlier this month.
The new federal relief plan provides help nationwide, with about $19.05 billion for rent assistance, $5 billion for homelessness assistance, $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers and $9.96 billion for mortgage payments.
DOLA does not know how much Colorado will receive in housing assistance from the new relief plan.