Charlene Winn moved from the streets to her Lowry apartment five years ago. It wasn’t a palace – a little kitchen and a little living room, his bedroom, the bathroom – but it was a house, his house. Winn had worked hard to get it: she had been homeless for four years, going from resource to resource, looking for work and an apartment she could afford.
She found both, working part-time at Dollar Tree and living in an affordable unit a few blocks from East Colfax. Then the pandemic hit and she lost her job. His rent went up by $150, a big hike for someone on a fixed income, and his debt soared.
“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep because it was like – I feel like I’m doing something I wasn’t supposed to because how dare I fall asleep, I need to try to do something for the situation to be rectified. You can’t sleep with something like that in your head.
After receiving a request for unpaid rent, Winn was connected through a community group with the state’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which paid nearly $10,000 and l covered until November. She won’t need more beyond that: she’s caught up now, and the two new part-time jobs she’s got will keep her going.
“I can wake up and go to sleep now and wake up knowing that I have a place to stay, that everything will be okay,” Winn said. “Winter is coming, I won’t be outside in the cold. When my grandkids visit, they have a place they can come in and sit down.
Winn is one of more than 34,000 Colorado households who have received emergency rental assistance since the pandemic began. The state has spent more than $290 million in federal funds to keep these residents housed, and local governments have handed out millions more.
But funding is running out.
State officials estimate rental assistance will run out sometime in early 2023. Some local programs are already dry, like Aurora’s, and others, like Denver, are starting to tax limits.
At the same time, state and local data show evictions are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Since June, Colorado’s eviction records are higher than they have been in nearly three years of 2020: More than 3,000 evictions were filed in each of those months; that level had not been reached since February 2020, according to state data.
Money is still available and officials have urged tenants in need to apply. But once he’s gone, there’s no way to fully replace him, state and local officials said. Federal pockets are far deeper than any here, and the protection offered by the money – 18 months of rental assistance for eligible households – cannot be replicated.
“At this time, we have unprecedented financial support for tenants who are unable to meet their monthly rental obligations,” said Zach Neumann, executive director of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “At some point early next year that money will essentially run out and when that happens one of the main tools we had to stop evictions will be gone, and it’s unclear what will happen next. after that.”
The prognosis changes depending on who you talk to. Neumann said other states that ran out of money for housing assistance saw evictions spike afterward. Emily Goodman, who works for the East Colfax Community Collective to help tenants get housing assistance and support, said the impact of the money running out would be “unreal”.
But Drew Hamrick, senior vice president of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, called those concerns overblown. He said there had been repeated fears of “eviction tsunamis” during the pandemic, disasters that never materialized. What is happening now, he said, is a return to the normal range of evictions, not a seismic shock to the system, and the rent assistance money is not needed as it is. was at the worst of the pandemic.
But, as advocates noted, those earlier warnings came as housing assistance was available and a constellation of state and federal eviction moratoriums further protected at-risk tenants. Hamrick countered that these occurred in jerky start increments and that the expulsions did not increase between programs.
“I guess it’s fine for people who think it’s fine to meddle in the savings to sit down and say, ‘This is the result of everything we’ve done,'” he said. he declares. “This is a slow, steady and methodical return to normalcy in housing markets, and that’s a very, very good thing.”
Other experts were less quick to advance. Peter LiFari, who runs Maiker Housing Partners in Adams County, said expiring rental assistance money “needs to be replaced.” Without it, he said, evictions will increase, and homelessness and displacement will follow. Some of the ground gained during the pandemic will be lost.
Replacing it entirely cannot be done locally, officials said. The state distributes $15 million to $20 million a month in federal rent assistance, said Sarah Buss, who until Friday was director of the state’s Office of Housing Recovery. State officials hope to find ways to provide that amount over the course of a year, rather than every 30 days.
The best replacement would be an additional infusion from Congress, officials said. But with President Joe Biden declaring the pandemic “over” and other COVID-related funding blocked in Congress, that path also seems unlikely.
The situation is similar in Denver: The city has received nearly $49 million in emergency housing assistance funds, said Melissa Thate, the city’s director of housing stability. That’s “substantially more” than the city had previously to support similar efforts, she said. While the availability of this money has meant that the city’s existing rent and utility assistance program has gone untapped, this program is funded at a fraction of the federal effort and provides more short-term support.
Instead, national and local authorities are looking for what to do with what they have. Denver is expanding its eviction legal assistance program, Thate said, and is considering other permanent programs. The state is working “diligently” to replace current aid, at least to some extent, Buss said, but nothing concrete has yet been developed. In Aurora, officials are looking for ways to provide more local support, but are waiting to see the level of need, the city’s housing and community development officer said.
LiFari hoped the state could avoid a rollback. The various measures implemented since the start of the pandemic have and will likely help moving forward, keeping evictions lower than they would have been.
“Overall, we’re in a better place than three years ago,” he said, “but where we were 3 years ago, it was so untenable.”
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