Denver is buying up old motels, the state has plans to turn a former juvenile detention center into a homeless recovery campus, and nonprofits are building towers of apartments to get people out of shelters. Still, it’s not enough to solve Colorado’s massive homelessness problem.
Dozens of other programs are working on a smaller scale to get people into housing or prevent them from losing it in the first place. Here are three that could make a dent:
Preventing homelessness by hiring apartment maintenance workers
Problem No. 1: About 40,000 apartments are now under construction in the Denver area. All will need maintenance workers and front-office staff, which are hard to find in the current worker shortage.
Problem No. 2: An estimated 9,000 people are homeless in the seven-county metro area on any given day, plus an uncounted number of others who are at risk of losing their housing.
Enter a national nonprofit called Entryway, which has selected Denver as its latest city to help sync those issues.
The organization has partnered with the Colorado and Denver apartment associations — which have at times been at odds with those battling against evictions and for renters’ rights — to help identify and train people on the verge of homelessness to work and live in apartment buildings that need staff.
“What really resonated was this really gets at the root cause of potential homelessness,” said Jared Miller, president of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. “It’s helping them find a sustainable career, but also be trained for that career, and also marrying that with housing.”
It will help solve the “talent gap” in the apartment industry, Miller said. “We’re always looking for people to hire. There are tens of thousands of apartments coming online in Denver — all of those apartments are going to need more staffing. We’re already understaffed.”
Participants will receive in-classroom training and job-shadowing for work in plumbing, electricity, groundskeeping, general maintenance and housekeeping. Another career track will train people to work in apartment offices, handling leasing or concierge services.
All participants must go through a background check. Entryway has trained more than 800 people and placed more than 600, including family members, in housing in nine cities so far.
The average pay is $18.70 per hour. The jobs are 40 hours per week, and participants receive reduced rent, typically paying no more than 30% of their income. They also can receive donated furniture and household items so they “can focus on this new career opportunity and they are not stressed about whether they are going to have a bed,” said Kristen Poteet, a vice president of Entryway.
Tech schools and local nonprofits that work with people at risk of losing their housing will refer them to the program, which accepts people who are not “chronically homeless” but are “situationally homeless” or “housing insecure,” Poteet said.
The focus is on preventing people from living on the streets or in shelters, not on people already in those dire living conditions.
“The great part about that is that oftentimes, the individuals that we work with are often overlooked,” Poteet said. “They really just need the opportunity but they are not always the most visible part of homelessness that we see.”
The first participants are expected to begin training in early 2024. Entryway plans to start with about 20 people in Denver the first year, growing each year after that.
What if paying rent improved your credit score?
For renters who want to buy a home, saving up for the down payment is one part of the struggle. Building good credit in order to qualify for a home loan is another.
It’s even more difficult when paying rent each month does nothing to affect a person’s credit score.
A group of 28 Colorado landlords and 282 tenants participated in a pilot program to test what would happen if renters could report their payments to credit agencies, and the result was significant.
The average FICO score — a credit rating used by lenders to determine who gets loans — for pilot participants went up by 67 points, according to the Urban Institute, which studied the project. That matters because renters on average have credit scores far lower than homeowners. One study, using data from Vantage credit scorer, found that the median score gap between renters and homeowners was 132 points.
Researchers with the Urban Institute say that if Colorado adopted a rent-reporting policy statewide, it could increase the credit scores for thousands of people. About 34% of housing units in Denver are occupied by renters.
Paying off a mortgage, car payments, medical bills and student loans count toward a person’s credit score, but rent — because it’s not a payment on something owned or purchased — does not.
The pilot project, run by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, was approved by the state legislature in 2021 and continues until June. Landlords who participate are compensated for collecting rental data and feedback.
Renters can ask landlords to report their payments, through a third party, to three national credit bureaus. Only on-time payments are reported, according to the program rules. That means those behind on rent are not punished with a bad report, said Noah McDaniel, a research analyst at the Urban Institute.
The policy is a step toward preventing homelessness, he said, and Colorado is at the forefront nationally. “Rent reporting is a promising policy that has the potential to improve housing stability for a lot of people,” McDaniel said.
Habitat for Humanity of Colorado pursued the pilot project, which was sponsored by Rep. Naquetta Ricks, an Aurora Democrat and former mortgage broker.
No-strings-attached payments to people without stable housing improved their living situation
Cash payments to people who were living on friends’ couches, in vehicles, shelters and outside allowed them to move into apartments and homes, according to preliminary data released this week from the Denver Basic Income Project.
The project includes more than 800 people who were divided into three groups. Group A receives $1,000 per month for a year. Group B received $6,500 the first month and gets $500 for the next 11 months. And Group C, the control group, receives $50 per month.
An analysis of the project’s first six months finds that fewer program participants are sleeping outside, fewer are going to hospital emergency departments, and more have full-time jobs.
The percentage of people in Group A who live in rented or owned housing has jumped to 34% from 8% six months ago. The percentage of people in Group B has risen to 40% from just 5% when the project began.
Group C also saw an increase in people living in apartments or houses, though the change was smaller — up to 31% compared with 11% six months ago.
The payments also resulted in a reduced number of people who were sleeping outside after six months. No one in Group A reported sleeping outside, compared with 6% of people at the start of the project. About 3% of people in Group B were sleeping outside after six months, down from 10%. And among Group C, the percentage of people sleeping outside dropped to 4% from 8%.
The project is funded by a mix of public and private money, including $1.5 million from The Colorado Trust and $2 million from the City of Denver’s pot of federal pandemic relief money. The University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research is studying the outcomes. (The Colorado Trust funds a reporting position at The Colorado Sun.)
The average age of participants is 44, while 27% are Black, 18% are Hispanic, and 7% are Indigenous.
People were eligible to apply for the project if they were homeless and had no unaddressed mental health or substance abuse issues. The definition of homeless included living in shared housing, motels, campgrounds, abandoned buildings, shelters, vehicles or parks. They were referred by community organizations that already work with the homeless population.
A final report on the project is expected in June.