EXPLAINER: Colorado housing increases, so does homelessness
DENVER (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Colorado:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis joined other states in halting evictions during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but he allowed the order to expire in 2021, leaving only the CDC moratorium. The governor had also issued orders preventing landlords from assessing fees for late rent until the end of 2020.
While many pandemic-era orders expired with the start of the new year, the state has extended executive orders till the end of June that require landlords serve 30-day rent demands rather than the original 10-day notices.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Colorado received $247 million for rental and utility assistance from the federal government and distributes the money through the Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The funds are eligible for people who make less than 80% of the area median income where they live and can be used for owed rent, plus another two months. Several nonprofits in the state are also offering aid for food and utility bills.
The Legislature passed a bill, currently awaiting the governor’s signature, that limits late fees and prohibits landlords from evicting tenants solely from their failure to pay late fees. Meanwhile, the Denver City Council is awaiting approval from Mayor Michael Hancock for a bill to provide free legal representation in court for those facing eviction.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Jurisdictions are handling court proceedings differently, but many of them are in the process of going back to in-person.
More than 8,200 evictions have been filed in state courts since the beginning of 2021 — almost equivalent to the same time last year, according to state judicial data. Pre-pandemic, from January to June 2019, there were more than 18,600 evictions filed — a decrease of about 57% in cases filed in the last two years.
WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Colorado has some of the highest housing costs of landlocked states “comparable to urbanized coastal regions,” said Jonathan Cappelli, director of the Neighborhood Development Collaborative, a group of metro-Denver nonprofits which aim to provide affordable housing.
Currently, 50.9% of Colorado renter households are “cost burdened,” with housing taking up more than 30% of total household income and 26% of renters are “severely cost-burdened,” with rent occupying more than 50% of household income — making Colorado the fourth most expensive state in the country after Florida, California and New York, according to data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
“Like many states, the recession brought a large number of foreclosures in low-income and minority-majority neighborhoods. Those properties were often bought by investors who flipped or rented the homes in a way that drove up land values and led to gentrification pressures on neighboring households,” Cappelli said.
During the pandemic, populous cities like Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder saw “relatively low” increases in median rent — between one and four percent. Other metro areas like Greeley and Colorado Springs saw rates increase by 5.1% and 9%, meaning for a median rental unit, rents have increased anywhere from $20 to $135 per month, depending on the location, said Brett McPherson, spokesperson for the state Department of Local Affairs.
“These increases in rental rates are not exceptional by historical standards. Rents in the Denver metropolitan area are estimated to have increased by 20% between January 2014 and 2015,” he added.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative found more than 6,100 individuals experiencing homelessness in the Denver metro region for their Point in Time survey on a night in January 2020. The visibility of homeless encampments throughout the capital has lead to numerous sweeps by the city and has been met with anger and frustration by activists for the lack of public solutions, especially during a pandemic.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that 1 in 7 renters nationwide were “not caught up on rent,” according to census data. For Colorado, 15%, or around 197,000 people, are behind on rent, facing the possibility of eviction.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.