A rental sign sits along on Dayton Street in Aurora advertising vacancies in an apartment building on January 27, 2021 . (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Renters struggling to stay in their homes got a three-month reprieve as the federal ban on evictions was extended until June 30. And they just may need it as Colorado’s rent-assistance program is now under new rules that could delay how fast money is being distributed.

“Unfortunately, at times, bureaucracy moves slower than the courts so these moratoriums, as challenging as they are for everybody, they literally are saving lives,” said Peter Lifari, executive director at Maiker Housing Partners, Adams County’s housing authority, said on Monday.

New guidelines to tap into federal dollars for Colorado’s rent-assistance programs have complicated the process for landlords. Under the state’s old Property Owner Preservation program, landlords could apply for rent on behalf of multiple tenants at once. Now they must provide additional data, including statements signed by their tenants.

The state Department of Local Affairs still is facing a backlog of applications due to high demand since January and the new rules are expected to make the wait longer for new applicants. As of March 21, more than 20,000 applicants were still awaiting a response to their requests for help when DOLA used the last of the $54 million provided by the state legislature. DOLA has handled about $58.9 million in monthly rent assistance for thousands of Coloradans since last summer.

The state had to switch to the $247 million pot provided by the federal relief package passed in December. The U.S. Department of Treasury requires all states that want to use federal funds for rent assistance to “have controls in place to ensure compliance with their policies and procedures and prevent fraud.”

The new guidelines could add a couple weeks to process applications, which also depends on how much staffing is added to address the issue, Lifari said.

Drew Hamrick, who is legal counsel for the Colorado Apartment Association, has been a fan of Colorado’s rent programs because he felt they rendered the moratoriums moot. The programs provided revenue for landlords when residents couldn’t pay. 

“We’ve been about two weeks into a period that DOLA has not been able to accept applications or fund because of this switchover, and that is frustrating landlords. They initially thought they’d be back online by the end of March,” he said. “But having a system where there’s a moratorium in place but no funding source for the rent payment is not sustainable.” 

Signs of apparent eviction in Del Norte, Colorado, January 23, 2021. (John McEvoy Special to the Colorado Sun)

The national eviction moratorium, which was set to end Wednesday, doesn’t prevent all evictions. To qualify, a person must fill out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction protection declaration and vouch that they cannot pay rent because of a decline in income due to job loss or increased medical bills. 

There were still 245,481 Coloradans on unemployment as of March 13, the latest available data. 

“The extension of the moratorium is an extremely important step for Colorado’s recovery and it will be even more important to ensure rental assistance is provided to those who need it most in the months to come,” said Tyler Jaeckel, director of policy and research at Bell Policy Center, a progressive nonprofit that promotes economic mobility. 

The national eviction ban will help the state housing department catch up with a backlog of requests for housing assistance, said Brett McPherson, a DOLA spokesman.

“The extension of the CDC eviction moratorium to June 30 gives us time to catch up on the backlog and make sure that tenants stay housed and landlords are made financially whole as the economy recovers,” McPherson said.

The department saw a record number of applications for rental aid in January after a state eviction moratorium ended on Dec. 31. But even after hiring contractors to help process applications, the state programs have more than “tens of thousands” of requests still waiting to be processed, he said.

The state’s Property Owner Preservation program for landlords and the Emergency Housing Assistance Program for tenants were folded into the Emergency Rental Assistance Program which began taking applications over the weekend.

Tenants who had applied to the old program before Saturday are still in the queue for their request to be reviewed. Those who had not completed their application by 11 a.m. on March 27 must submit it in the new system.

Landlords who’ve already applied for POP funds will need to provide additional information and emails have been sent to inform affected users, McPherson said.

“POP is no more,” he said. “That has been folded into ERAP — the singular program for landlords and tenants to get their rental assistance.”

Lifari said Maiker Housing stopped accepting requests for rental aid last fall because demand was overwhelming. He said Adams County has $22.3 million in pending funding requests since January. But as an organization built to help people stay housed, he pleads with landlords and tenants to hang on a bit longer.

“What I would say to landlords is the money is there, even if it’s going to take a couple weeks longer than what your gut and your nervous system would like to handle,” Lifari said. “And I would implore folks, don’t leave your home just because you’ve received a demand for compliance or if you have a landlord that (threatens eviction). Vet that information. Colorado Legal Services is available. You can call 211, the help is there.”

Colorado’s housing resources

Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program is available to tenants experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. Program is open to renters and landlords. >> Apply 

Colorado Housing Connects is also a state-funded resource for renters and landlords that provides free legal advice and assistance. >> Details

COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project provides free legal advice for struggling tenants, including legal representation. >> 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 Legal Services provides free legal services to low-income Coloradans in matters ranging from housing, domestic relations and domestic violence, to public benefits. >> Details

Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...