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Pressure To Speed Up Colorado Rental Assistance Programs Builds After Eviction Ban Ruling

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Matt Bloom / KUNC
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Attorneys talk in a hallway inside the Boulder County Justice Center, where county eviction court is held every Friday morning.

Sitting outside a Boulder County courtroom, Thom Ward, a local housing attorney who works with tenants through the city’s free legal aid program, felt unsurprised about the fall of the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction ban.

“We knew this was coming, it was just a matter of when,” Ward said. “It means that one of the greatest tools that tenants and attorneys defending tenants had is gone.”

In the days since the Supreme Court struck down the CDC’s moratorium, Ward hasn’t seen a sudden rush of eviction cases arriving in Boulder County. The few cases currently on the docket were filed weeks — if not months — ago when the moratorium was still in effect.

“At least in Boulder, cases must be filed 10 days before the court date,” Ward said. “And so everything for right now was filed with the moratorium in place and landlords reasonably would not have wanted to file cases.”

But that could soon change, he fears.

As landlords and tenants grapple with the recent ruling, so are those in Colorado’s court system. For almost a year, judges have been weighing the CDC’s order in the few cases that make it to their bench — often ruling in a tenant’s favor when it involves nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19 hardship.

Now the protective order has been scrapped, which opens the door for landlords to proceed with cases that would have previously been blocked. The exact number waiting for the opportunity is unclear, but likely “impactful,” said Dylan Becker, a housing attorney based in Colorado Springs who primarily works with property owners.

“Landlords are going to be more keen to move their case forward,” Becker said. “They’ll feel more confident in doing so.”

Case filings — the first of many steps landlords take to evict a tenant — have already been increasing in some areas. In Boulder County, for example, 66 cases were filed in June. That’s higher than the 60 cases filed in June 2019, before the pandemic, according to state data.

But statewide, the overall number of filings is still down from pre-pandemic levels.

An average 407 eviction cases have appeared in Colorado courts each week in August. That’s down from an average of 700 filings per week before the pandemic.

So far this year, filings are down 52% from 2019 levels, according to an analysis from the Colorado Apartment Association, the state’s largest landlord trade group.

“These numbers signal that there does not seem to be an impending uptick in physical move outs,” CAA said.

Long waits for rental assistance 

In anticipation of the federal moratorium expiring or being struck down, Gov. Jared Polis passed an executive order last month that gives tenants an extra 20 days to make up missed rent payments. That order expires on Sept. 4, but could be extended if a “significant backlog” of rental assistance remains, a spokeswoman for Polis said.

A recent U.S. Treasury report found that, as of July 31, less than 8% of the state’s total pandemic rental assistance funds had been paid out.

Roughly 2,000 applications to the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) are currently in the review process. Another 6,000 have been reviewed and are in limbo due to missing information from either tenants or landlords, according to the state’s Division of Housing, which is overseeing distribution of the funds.

Newly submitted applications are now reviewed and processed within two weeks, the state housing division says. The state has also moved to a new online payment transfer service, Bill.com, that has helped speed up payments.

But many tenants and housing advocates say wait times can easily exceed that two-week time frame. And the program’s lengthy application requirements and inconsistent processing times tests the patience of landlords.

“I think it’s taken a while for people to figure out how to do this,” said Zach Neumann, an attorney with the nonprofit COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which is also helping process applications for ERAP. “And prior to this moment, there was no national infrastructure to get rental assistance or housing support for renters. And so a lot of this is building the plane as it flies.”

Wait times vary depending on where tenants apply, said Ward, the housing attorney. Various state and local government agencies are doling out the federal funds. In several counties, local nonprofits are the key contact.

A tenant’s own ability to jump through the various hoops involved with obtaining assistance is also a factor, Ward said. Residents who don’t have computers, reliable internet access or copies of necessary documents can have a more difficult time.

“(People need to) be persistent in applying for financial aid because the financial aid organizations are doing their best, but they need that persistence to do their job well,” Ward said.

Becker, the landlord attorney, said evictions happen for a number of reasons. Rental assistance likely won’t have a hand in stopping evictions related to behavioral or safety issues.

In cases of nonpayment of rent, it’s up to the landlord to decide whether they want to wait for government aid to come through or work their way through the court system.

“As a result, at least immediately, I do anticipate at least some bump in evictions,” Becker said.

Struggling to pay rent in Northern Colorado? Here’s a list of resources.

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