A program that covers rent for struggling Coloradans saw a 33% increase in applicants in November compared with the average of prior months, and reasons for that include a more efficient system for processing and awareness that help is available.
The Emergency Rental Assistance program, which launched in March, hit a program high of 4,700 applicants last month, compared with the 3,500 monthly average, and continues to see demand 22 months into the pandemic. The state has paid out more per week since July, when some landlords complained abouts payment delays, an Colorado Department of Local Affairs official said.
“The ERA program continues to experience high demand, and we are implementing improvements every day to make the program more efficient and customer friendly,” DOLA’s deputy executive director Dionne Williams said in an email. “Since rolling out the bill.com payment portal in August we have paid more than $64 million in assistance, and we are currently averaging about $3 million in payments per week.”
Its nonprofit housing partners are paying an additional $1.5 million per week. That makes it more than double what the state was paying before August, when technical issues and setting up anti-fraud measures resulted in $32.6 million paid from March to July.
While there’s no eviction moratorium and the unemployment rate has declined as more people return to work, Williams suspects one main factor has contributed to the increase in applicants.
“We’ve seen an increase in overall awareness of the program, especially among landlords, and we know that when landlords and tenants have a good relationship and are aware of the program they are more likely to apply for and receive assistance,” she said.
Eligible renters must meet certain income thresholds and provide documentation that they are behind in their rent and have experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to COVID-19. But once approved, renters can qualify for up to 15 months of rent assistance.
A newer program to help homeowners with mortgage payments has seen a fraction of the applicants. And that, too, may be due to a lack of awareness. The Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program began accepting applications last month, there were 457 applications as of Nov. 29. Only four requests had been paid, Williams said.
“EMAP officially started in November so we have limited data,” she said, “but we can tell you that so far, the program seems to be working as expected.”
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the federal agency is still approving mortgage programs for states so there is limited data available.
But rental aid programs nationwide also have seen an increasing number of payments to struggling tenants. In October, the program provided $2.8 billion to 521,000 renters and landlords, according to Treasury department data. To date, ERA has paid out $12.1 billion, excluding administrative expenses, in 2.5 million payments.
The housing-assistance programs received nearly $50 billion from the two federal pandemic relief packages. The Treasury department expects that $25 billion to $30 billion of the money will be spent by the end of the year.
Williams said that the state’s two housing aid programs don’t have a waiting list. Colorado’s share of the federal funds is $690 million and only about $168 million has been paid out as of Oct. 31.
As of November 30, the state’s ERA program had 677 applications approved and pending payment, she said.
Applicants should get a response on eligibility within seven days, but the process of vetting applicants and approving them could take two to three weeks, especially if the required “substantial” documentation is incomplete, she said.
“Between our various rental and housing assistance programs — using both state and federal funds — we’ve made more than 47,000 payments,” Williams said. “We want people to know that there is still help available, and that they shouldn’t wait until they are facing imminent eviction to start the application process.”
Colorado’s housing assistance programs
→ Homeowners: Colorado Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program >> APPLY
→ Renters and landlords: Colorado’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program >> APPLY
Need help with an application? Call 2-1-1 and make an appointment with the United Way.
For legal assistance, these organizations provide free legal advice:
- COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project at cedproject.org (mostly for Denver residents)
- Colorado Legal Services (offices statewide): coloradolegalservices.org