Denver stopped accepting new applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at 11:59 p.m. Friday, as federal funds allocated to support struggling tenants in the city and state dry up.
Applications received before this deadline are still being processed and households already approved for assistance will not see these payments stop abruptly. But the cut was necessary because the city was working “to use remaining federal resources in a way that benefits the greatest number of households in need,” according to a housing department news release.
The head of a nonprofit that has helped distribute millions of dollars in relief payments to struggling tenants in Denver and across Colorado over the past few years hopes that other sources of funding will come closer can be found to keep people in stable housing until the effects of Proposition 123, the state’s recently passed affordable housing funding mechanism, kick in next year.
“I think we really need state and local investments to connect these programs,” said Zach Neumann, co-founder and CEO of the Community Economic Defense Project.
Since 2021, more than $130 million in federal assistance has been disbursed to help more than 13,700 Denver households under the program commonly known as ERAP, according to city officials. The money, distributed by city and state contractors including the Community Economic Defense Project, was available to cover rental payments dating back to April 2020 as well as utility bills and utilities. housing stability.
On Nov. 1, the Denver Department of Housing Stability, or HOST, began scaling back the local ERAP program, only accepting new applications for the first time since that date. But after Friday, even those applications will no longer be accepted, housing department officials said.
“In recent weeks, HOST has received a significant increase in the volume of submitted applications,” the city said in a press release earlier this month. “After further analysis and discussions with the state, it has been determined that it is necessary for Denver ERAP to stop accepting new applications and limit the number of months of assistance that can be received. “
Between Nov. 1 and Friday afternoon, the city filed 1,112 new first-time applications for ERAP, according to housing department spokeswoman Sabrina Allie.
The city now limits the length of assistance qualified applicants can receive to 18 months of support, Allie said.
As of mid-October, more than 34,000 Colorado households had received at least one emergency rental assistance since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The money, about $290 million granted to the state and millions more to local governments like Denver, was provided through federal coronavirus relief funds and the American Rescue Plan Act.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated an affordable housing crisis that predated the pandemic and has deep disparities that threaten the strength of an economic recovery that must work for everyone,” the US Treasury Department said of the program on its website.
But funding is limited, and Denver is bottoming out on its allocation. According to city figures, Denver only has to spend $7.5 million of the city’s $38 million. Of this amount, $6 million has been set aside for housing assistance.
The end of those federal programs comes as evictions in the city have returned to pre-pandemic levels. There were 982 eviction cases filed in Denver in October, the first time that number has exceeded 900 since January 2020, according to data from Denver County Courts staff. Through November, 7,288 eviction cases were filed in the city, up from 4,894 last year and 3,912 in 2020, years in which state and federal moratoria protected tenants from losing their homes. .
Neumann’s organization was one of the largest rental assistance contractors in the state, processing nearly $100 million in payments and serving more than 31,000 households. Previously named the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, the nonprofit organization changed its name to the Community Economic Defense Project this month as it expands its model to focus on other issues such as foreclosures, predatory towing practices and more.
“Stability payments are the most powerful tool we have to stop evictions. Period. Full stop,” Neumann said of the value of ERAP. “Usually when you can pay your rent and be current on your account, that’s a defence. You paid.”
The defeat of Denver Initiated’s Ordinance 305 in November, the city’s only ballot measure to be defeated in the 2022 election, also hurt tenants’ ability to stay in their homes, Neumann said. The measure would have created a tax on landlords to pay for legal defense services in the event of eviction. With opponents sporting a heavy fundraising advantage, 305 was voted down by 57.5% of Denver voters.
But the end of ERAP is not a collapsing scenario. Neumann looks forward to the impact of Proposition 123. Backed by a majority of voters statewide in last month’s election, the measure is expected to transform a slice of the state’s income tax revenue in $300 million in affordable housing funding each year starting in 2023, including funding for eviction defense.
It’s just a matter of getting to the point where that money is distributed and can make a difference. Neumann noted that the state legislature was nearing the start of its 2023 session, a chance for lawmakers to step in.
“What our customers are really looking for is a bridge,” he said. “How can we link these programs and continue to provide services in this interim window? »
Denver has its own in-house financial assistance program for tenants. Temporary Rent and Utilities Assistance, or TRUA, was launched in 2017, according to the city. Information about this program is available at Denvergov.org/RentHelp.Information about legal services to avoid evictions can be found at Denvergov.org/EvictionHelp.
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