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A March on Billionaire Landlords is seen in New York City. Protesters there wanted rent relief and/or a rent freeze during challenging economic times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Protesters assembled at the New York Public Library and then headed east on 42nd street towards Madison and Park Avenue - home to some of the priciest real estate in Manhattan.

Pandemic protections for renters helped cut evictions in Colorado by nearly 60%, according to a new analysis that makes statewide, aggregate eviction data available for the first time. 

The report, “A New Normal,” is based on data from almost 150,000 evictions filed in Colorado county courts across the state from July 2017 to June 2021, and analyzes eviction filings by quantity, geography, case outcomes and whether landlords and renters had legal representation in their cases.

It was released Wednesday by the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, which works to increase affordable housing options nationwide and analysis was done by Colorado Futures Center, a nonprofit dedicated to informing the public about economic, fiscal and public policy issues.

From 2019 to 2020, eviction filings fell by 57% as eviction moratoriums and state-provided rental assistance came into effect, the study found.

However, the report found a stark inequality in who had legal representation in eviction cases. From July 2017 to June 2021, in 77% of eviction cases, landlords had legal representation at some point in their case, but that number was as low as just over 1% for renters. Renters without legal representation were more likely to be evicted than those who had lawyers, the report found. 

“For far too many Coloradans, especially people with low incomes, it is exceptionally difficult to find high-quality, affordable and stable housing,” said Kinsey Hasstedt, state and local policy director for Denver-based Enterprise Community Partners. “When faced with eviction, they must navigate a complicated system without enough resources in their corner.”

Denver residents are most impacted by eviction at the neighborhood level, the report found. In Denver, the only county for which ZIP code-level information was accessible, eviction filings were highly concentrated in neighborhoods with predominantly lower income immigrants and renters of color, who are at higher risk for eviction because of structural discrimination and inequality in the U.S. housing system, according to the report. 

Compared to homeowners, renters tend to have fewer financial resources, receive less leeway for late payments, and are subject to property owners’ terms, the report says. Stable housing is essential for physical and economic well-being while housing instability and evictions can negatively affect a person’s health and employment and their child’s development, according to the report.

This is the first time Coloradans can access extensive eviction information, beyond just the number of evictions filed statewide, Hasstedt said. The report shines a light on who is being evicted, where they live, and how they were affected to help identify interventions, so that evictions and their impact are reduced, she said.

Eviction data is not consistently available or standardized in Colorado, according to the report, which argues the state should increase the availability and accuracy of its data to help find solutions and reduce evictions to create a more stable and equitable housing system. 

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Other states, such as Massachusetts, have prioritized improving statewide eviction data for residents, including by creating a new dashboard that includes useful aggregate information, such as why evictions were filed, Hasstedt said. 

“It requires some political will to prioritize this data and we hope to see that soon in the state of Colorado,” she said.

The Colorado Health Foundation provided financial support for the report.

A Colorado evictions data analysis

In 2021, the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee requested information from the state judicial department on the number of eviction cases filed dating back to 2017.  

From July 2017 through June 2021, 148,829 evictions were filed in Colorado’s county courts. In 2018 and 2019, the two calendar years for which the judicial department provided data before the pandemic, more than 48,500 and 45,300 evictions were filed, respectively, the report says.

Adams and Arapahoe counties had the highest eviction filing rates, and El Paso and Lake counties ranked among the top five in each pre-pandemic year. When adjusted for renter population, eviction filings were generally higher in Colorado’s more populated counties, before and at the beginning of the pandemic. 

The pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic shined a light on and exacerbated the affordable housing crisis that had long been present across Colorado, prompting historic government interventions. From late March 2020 through August 2021, some form of a state or federal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent was in place, according to the report.

About $875 million in state and federal funds were dedicated to emergency rental and homeowner assistance. The state legislature called a special session to address the crisis. Gov. Jared Polis convened a special eviction prevention task force. And a statewide affordable housing transformational task force was appointed to advise on pandemic recovery fund investments and policy advances, according to the report.

Now that temporary legal protections have expired and emergency assistance has stopped, it’s critical to understand the impact of these pandemic interventions, particularly for renters and property owners, the report says.

Evictions were ordered against renters in 70% of cases from July 2017 to December 2019. But that percentage dropped to 58% in 2020 and to 52% in the first half of 2021, due to pandemic-related legal protections and resources, according to the report.

Before and during the pandemic, legal representation resulted in better outcomes for the few renters who had it. Renters with access to lawyers were also more likely to file a response to the eviction filing and more often come to an agreement on how to resolve the case with their landlord.

Before the pandemic, renters filed an answer or counterclaim to contest the landlord’s initial filing in only 5%-7% of cases filed each year. That proportion increased to 13% in 2020, and to 16% in the first half of 2021, indicating more renters had cause and the resources to respond, such as pandemic-prompted expansions of legal aid, the report states.

Only a small percentage of cases resulted in money judgments, peaking at 6% in the second half of 2017 and declining each year thereafter. The average amount of money due to landlords and lawyers in July 2017 through 2019 was $3,325, increasing to $5,465 in 2020 and the first half of 2021. This suggests that even with eviction moratoria in place, some landlords filed evictions against renters who had considerably fallen behind on rent, likely due to lost income during the pandemic, as well as limited rental assistance availability in the pandemic’s early months, according to the report.

In nearly all eviction cases resulting in a money judgment, the renter lacked legal representation. The average total judgment in those cases was typically higher if the landlord had a lawyer, according to the analysis.

Irma Diaz, a community navigator in Denver, said her family had shared expenses, lived a good life and enjoyed restaurants and vacations before the coronavirus. But when the pandemic hit, the family began struggling to afford bills, especially rent. “It never ends — this needing to catch up,” she says in the report.

Claudia Ramos left increasing violence in her hometown in Mexico and settled in Denver’s East Colfax neighborhood in search of better opportunities. But when cannabis was legalized in Colorado, she saw a steep increase in rent. She applied for rental assistance through the state’s website, but when she called to follow up on the status of her application, offices were closed because of COVID-19. Soon after, she learned about the East Colfax Community Collective, which works to fight housing displacement. A community navigator there helped her find more stable housing.

“Sometimes there are situations where the person comes to us in this difficult situation, and when they’re telling their story, they have a few tears and other times they just seem desperate,” said Maricendi Jaimes, a housing navigator for Denver’s BuCu West Development Association, which helps renters access resources, including rental assistance, to remain stably housed. 

“Other times, they feel kind of blocked because they don’t know what to do,” Jaimes said on Thursday. “So we try to talk to them and explain to them what the process is because many people don’t have that information, they don’t know what their rights are, or they don’t know what the process is. … Once we talk to them about that, they feel safer and calmer.”

As funding runs out on safety net programs such as the Emergency Rental Assistance program, Jaimes said she is worried, because the need for financial assistance is still great, especially with rising inflation. There’s a need for more rent control policies and safety net protections, she said. 

Recommendations

Enterprise Community Partners cites data transparency as a key eviction prevention tool. 

For now, Colorado has no readily available statewide resource for timely, detailed information on eviction trends, making it difficult to understand the scope of the issue statewide, and learn about who is most affected, Hasstedt said.

Court filings alone cannot capture the full scope and impact of evictions, yet these filings are currently the only traceable records of eviction proceedings, according to the report.

State leaders should standardize how information for eviction filings is logged and reported across all county courts, and ensure interaction across different state agencies’ case management systems, to align resources, according to the report’s recommendations.

All county courts and the state judicial department should then consistently pull and publicly report key information from eviction court filings for long-term analysis, particularly if filings increase in vulnerable communities. The data should not include identifiable information about renters, the report says.

When renters are stably housed, landlords have lower vacancy and turnover rates and benefit from consistent rent collections, the report says.

Conversely, evictions strain court systems and increase demands on human services. Without “stabilizing interventions,” such as rental assistance or eviction diversion programs, landlords commonly rely on eviction filings as a lever to compel rent payments, perpetuating a system of crisis creation and response, the report states.

“This new analysis proves that interventions like those we saw during the pandemic made a real difference in preventing evictions across the state,” Hasstedt said. 

“We need more — and more consistent data from eviction filings, and we should use this knowledge to implement long-term, scalable, upstream measures to prevent evictions from being filed in the first place,” she said. “This would advance an equitable and stable housing system that benefits renters, landlords and Colorado communities as a whole.”

Tatiana Flowers

Tatiana Flowers is the equity and general assignment beat reporter for the Colorado Sun. She has covered crime and courts plus education and health in Colorado, Connecticut, Israel...