With thousands of Coloradans still waiting to be approved for — or receive — available rental assistance, some relief came Thursday as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the national eviction moratorium another month to July 31.
The CDC said this is likely to be the last time it extends the order, which has been in effect since September.
“It’s a godsend. It’s absolutely needed,” said Peter LiFari, executive director at Maiker Housing Partners in Westminster, which connects struggling renters with public rent assistance. “It’s hard to ask for help even when you qualify. We’ve got to believe people and we’ve got to give them a chance. This gives us a little more time to help them.”
According to a recent household survey by the U.S. Census, 30.4% of Colorado households are behind on rent or mortgage payments and face “very likely or somewhat likely” foreclosure in the next two months. Those with a “total likelihood” of foreclosure or eviction number 77,024.
“What we’ve seen just now is that 77,000 Colorado renters are behind on their rent as of today,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, during a news conference held Thursday and organized by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University and The Pew Charitable Trusts. “They’re very much at risk of becoming housing unstable in the coming months, whether that’s through eviction or being pushed out when their lease is up because a lot of those tenants are on month-to-month leases.”
The moratorium has prevented some evictions if the tenant lost a job or income, or had large medical bills. But evictions are still allowed. According to the Colorado Apartment Association, there were 1,031 eviction filings in Colorado in May.
But that is just a quarter of the normal number of evictions, said the association’s legal counsel Drew Hamrick.
“Housing providers and renters are working hard to preserve housing. There’s a massive amount of government aid available for those who need help paying their rent. Those that need assistance can get it,” Hamrick said. “If there’s an issue that needs to be tackled, it’s ironing out the kinks in the emergency rental assistance program so that money gets to where it’s needed faster.”
Colorado’s Division of Housing is processing thousands of applications for rental help with money from two federal COVID-19 relief packages. The American Rescue Plan and the Consolidated Appropriations Act allocated about $690 million for Colorado’s rental assistance programs. Only about $10 million of new federal money has been paid so far, according to Division of Housing data. (Another $87 million in housing payments came from state or other federal sources.)
The housing assistance programs were overwhelmed in January after the state’s eviction moratorium came to an end. The Division of Housing signed two contracts for a total of $6.5 million to hire HORNE LLC, an out-of-state contractor to process applications faster. HORNE employees started work in February.
After months of delays for applicants, the state’s director of housing Alison George said earlier this month that there was no more backlog. However, more than 6,200 applicants were on hold because their applications were missing information. Another 8,623 had been denied.
“We review the applications and we’re having to reach back out to the applicants or landlord, saying, ‘You’re missing your W-9’ or ‘You’re missing your income information,’ or ‘You haven’t signed the attestation,’” George said in an interview earlier this month. “These are things that are required as a part of the application process (for the U.S.) Treasury that we have to verify In order to (pay out) the public funds.
Eligibility for the housing assistance program changed when new federal money became available for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP. But to date, the state’s programs have approved or paid out $97.9 million to tenants, landlords and homeowners throughout the pandemic. There are still more than 9,000 applications under review or missing information. An additional 2,305 are waiting for a review.
“The CDC eviction moratorium was just extended for another 30 days because the states are so far behind in making ERAP payments,” said Jana Happel, a staff attorney for Colorado Legal Services Housing Unit who said she has clients who’ve been waiting more than two months for help. “Why did (George) say there was no more backlog?”