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Fewer Coloradans Applied For Emergency Rental Assistance In May, But The Need Is Still Strong

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Matt Bloom
/
KUNC
A sign advertises apartments for rent in Louisville.

The number of people applying for funds from Colorado’s emergency aid program for renters and landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic slowed significantly over the past month.

Applications dropped from a high of 1,445 during the first week of April to 526 the last week of May, according to data from the Department of Local Affairs.

The drop is due to a number of factors, said Alison George, the head of the department’s Division of Housing. More local agencies are now distributing rental assistance funds, which could take away from the number of applications received by the state, she said.

But the administrative shift doesn’t account for all of the drop-off. Many people are going back to work and can cover their expenses. Recent surveys have shown a lack of knowledge that the rental assistance funds — designed to keep people housed during uncertain economic times — exist.

“It did drop more than we expected,” George said. “We suspect it’s a couple of things, including a lack of public awareness of the programs and then also the challenges that we’ve had in engaging residents or tenants.”

Colorado recently received an additional $247 million for emergency rental assistance from Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Funds within the Emergency Rental Assistance Program are available to help both renters and landlords cover missed payments as far back as April 2020. The aid can cover two future months of rent on top of that.

Some local agencies administering the aid money say demand is still high, even though state numbers may show a decrease in applications.

Neighbor To Neighbor, a nonprofit overseeing the distribution of ERAP funds in Larimer County, approved requests for at least 291 households in May. More than 300 applicants are still waiting to have their requests approved.

The numbers show a slight dip from April, said Kelly Evans, the organization's executive director. But that could be due to the fact that tenants can get up to two months of rent covered each time they apply, creating a temporary lull in applications.

Most of the aid is going toward large amounts of back rent that residents may have missed at some point during the past year, Evans added.

“It’s going to take several months to recover for households that earn a lower hourly wage,” Evans said. “I don’t know for sure, but my guess is we’re going to keep at a fairly high level through the end of this calendar year.”

Fuerza Latina, an advocacy organization in Fort Collins, has seen a drop in calls to its rental assistance hotline. Fuerza volunteers help residents navigate the application process, which has changed forms multiple times over the past several months.

Laurie Pasricha, an organizer with Fuerza, said she’s concerned many people are still unaware that they may be eligible for the aid.

“I think we’re starting to see a decrease (in interest) now as things are opening up and people are getting back to work,” Pasricha said. “We're trying to reach out and encourage people, even if they’ve started back to work, to use this rent assistance that's available.”

The organization plans to host an information session on rent assistance in June, she said.

The distribution process for hundreds of millions of dollars of pandemic rental assistance will likely stretch on for years. The Department of Local Affairs is creating a new Office of Housing Recovery and hiring a full-time director to oversee the job.

The department is also working through a backlog of roughly 8,000 applications with missing or incomplete information. The pool represents about $50 million in assistance that hasn’t been paid out to renters.

Since the start of the pandemic, Colorado has distributed close to $200 million through various programs, according to data from the Division of Housing. When Colorado’s statewide ban on evictions expired last December, the state was bombarded with over $55 million in requests in January alone.

With the federal eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of June, another spike could be on the way, George said.

“We have seen great variation month by month even,” George said. “So it’s difficult to project.”

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