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A program that paid up to 15 months of rent on behalf of Coloradans who struggled financially during the pandemic closes to newcomers on Nov. 15. But it’s not over just yet.

Some of Colorado’s share of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program remains unspent. Those who apply by the deadline will be vetted and if they’re eligible, may receive financial help, like the more than 36,000 Colorado households that have already benefited, according to the state’s Department of Local Affairs, which oversees the program. Federal aid also remains available in some parts of the state, though it all will likely run out in 2023.

Apartment units are seen in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.(Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

“The Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program has always been a federally funded, temporary, short-term program to alleviate the impacts of rental and utility hardships throughout the pandemic and recovery,” said Melissa Nereson, DOLA’s housing recovery manager. “After the temporary funding for this program ends, (DOLA’s) statewide partners will assist Colorado tenants in planning for housing security one on one.”

The funding came from two congressional relief acts passed during the pandemic. Colorado’s allocation was about $690 million for emergency rental assistance. That was split between DOLA and 11 cities and counties with more than 200,000 residents. 

As of this week, DOLA said it has handled applications for residents statewide and received $461.9 million in federal ERA funds, which includes El Paso County’s share since the county didn’t set up its own rental assistance program. The agency has so far distributed $300 million of that amount in rent and utility assistance. The total amount will be distributed until it runs out, Nereson said. The data is being updated and will be shared publicly in the future.

Other local governments have also run out of money or are nearing the last of their federal aid. The city of Aurora, which was allocated $20.4 million, ran out in August, said Alicia Montoya, the city’s housing and community development manager.

“DOLA has been processing applications for Aurora residents since we closed our application portal, and they will continue to provide the option for Aurora residents until they also run out of funds,” Montoya said.

When the state closes its portal to new applicants at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 15, renters who face economic hardships may still be able to apply to programs in Denver, Larimer County and Boulder County if they live in those areas, Nereson said.

The money has helped renters nationwide, as well as their landlords, property managers and building owners. In Colorado, as the pandemic unemployed returned to work, the state’s ERA program opened up to non-pandemic applicants, including victims of last year’s Marshall fire in Boulder County.

Landlords benefited from rent assistance too

The federal funds helped keep people housed and landlords paid even after the national eviction moratorium was lifted last year. 

Karen Arnold, a landlord who rents out about a half-dozen town houses in Denver, said that only one of her tenants kept their job during the pandemic. Only one paid their rent in full. She’s grateful to ERA because it helped her manage her properties and keep her own bills paid while not having to evict anyone. 

“The programs allowed those who lost their jobs a bit of breathing space and saved all of them from eviction. They have all managed to get their lives back on solid footings and are all back working again,” Arnold said in an email. “Those that went off the program in April 2021 (when it expired for the first participants) have all been all paying on time since then. The program did exactly what it was meant to do — save them from eviction and I could not be more pleased.”

But evictions are back up to where they were before the pandemic at nearly 4,000 a month in August and September, or “the normal range,” according to the Colorado Apartment Association.

“We haven’t seen any impact from the expiration of the ERAP programs,” said Drew Hamrick, general counsel for the Denver and Colorado apartment associations that represent more than 3,000 owners and managers of apartment homes statewide. “Participation rates in the programs have been dropping over time for a number of reasons. Most notably, it’s pretty difficult to make the case that current financial hardship is COVID caused.”

Colorado’s affordable housing advocates say ERA did more than stave off evictions temporarily; it kept people housed. And the future in Colorado is dire as housing affordability is out of control. 

“It’s beyond heartbreaking to see us return to what the apartment association refers to as ‘the natural friction of the housing market’ when we know how much our housing unit shortfall and subsequent unaffordability crisis is impacting Coloradans and yet we are going to say, ‘Oh well it is what it is,’” said Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners, a public housing authority in Adams County.

Housing affordability still a big issue

With ERA almost gone, the state’s housing affordability still has not been addressed, LiFari said. 

“We are just about to receive the final allocation of ERA from Adams County — approximately $700,000,” he said. “(We) will administer through the end of this year with no other source to replace it identified.”

The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which initially provided legal help to tenants facing eviction, wound up also getting ERA payments to recipients faster. Some renters faced monthslong delays before a check arrived because state programs were overwhelmed by requests. The Eviction Defense Project figured out how to provide those funds within days and then get reimbursed weeks or months later. 

Boxes filled with belongings sit inside grocery carts covered with blankets in front of a home boarded up on Emporia St. on January 27, 2021, in Aurora, Colorado. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Cofounder Zach Neumann calls ERA “enormously successful” and estimates that the Defense Project made $80 million in rental assistance payments to landlords and owners. It’s still making between $8 million and $10 million a month in rental assistance, and serving 1,200 to 1,400 households, or 3,000 people. 

“Most of the people we serve are not getting legal services because they don’t need them,” Neumann said. “We have found that well-timed ERA payments negotiated and navigated by our tenant advocates generally resolve the eviction. They stop risk and folks can go about their lives. But we do have lawyers and staff, and they will step in and get involved in situations where the money is not enough.”

The organization plans to stick around, though it’ll likely drop COVID-19 from its name. It still offers legal services to tenants facing eviction. It also wants to help figure out how to keep people from losing their housing when they need it most.

“For the majority of our clients, ERA is a response to a temporary emergency that can be the loss of a job, an unexpected medical expense, a car breaking down. That stopgap measure that can pay past rent and also future rent is very stabilizing,” Neumann said. 

“With ERA going away in 2023 or whenever that happens, renters across the state and renters’ advocates are losing their most powerful tool for housing stability. Because of the way state laws are written and because of the system we have, you can have a really good attorney, but if you don’t have rental assistance, you can’t pay the balance that’s owed. You eventually will be evicted. And so when this federal money dries up, I think the work of the navigators, the caseworkers, the lawyers, all of that is going to be tremendously more difficult.” 


Need help? Find rental assistance

Colorado’s Emergency Rental Assistance program is still taking new applications from residents statewide until Nov. 15, 2022. >> Apply

  • Existing applicants can check on their case by calling 720-356-0174 or 888-480-0066, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. or on Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

➔ These local communities still have federal Emergency Rental Assistance available to their residents (contact them for eligibility):

➔ Other legal resources and rental assistance may be available from these sources:

Tamara Chuang

Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww....