With the final day of the federal eviction moratorium looming, Boulder is bracing for a potential deluge of requests for help within its new Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services program.
The program, which has been operating throughout 2021, is the result of the No Eviction Without Representation measure that passed in Boulder in November. It provides free mediation and legal services and rental assistance to tenants facing eviction. The program is paid for through an annual $75 excise tax to be paid by landlords on each property with a rental license.
“Lately, we are hearing more word that landlords do have a backlog of situations that they want to take to eviction court where a tenant hasn’t been responsive,” Carin Armstrong, who manages Boulder’s Community Mediation and Resolution Center, said.
“I think there are going to be evictions coming,” she added. “I don’t know that it’s going to be exactly a tsunami, but (there’s) definitely some backlog that we’re going to see soon.”
While no one knows with any certainty what will happen when the moratorium ends Saturday, Boulder’s Housing and Human Services Department is anticipating how to handle an overwhelmed system should it occur. The department has identified team members that can take on additional work if the current staff’s capacity becomes strained.
Other entities are preparing for the end of the moratorium as well and considering what it might mean for renters and landlords in Colorado.
In a letter to Gov. Jared Polis, the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project urged the governor to ensure that no tenant is evicted while awaiting rental assistance. Thousands are waiting in line for help, according to the letter.
“This is resulting in considerable unpaid housing debt and instability for tenants and landlords alike,” the letter states. “No one eligible for rental assistance should be put out of their homes, especially because of systemic factors beyond their control.”
The letter was signed by government officials and nonprofit organizations across the state, including Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver and City Council members Aaron Brockett and Rachel Friend.
When asked whether the governor had plans to take any such action, a spokesperson with the administration provided a statement instead of directly answering the question.
“Governor Polis has taken bold steps to keep people housed during this global pandemic,” spokesperson Conor Cahill wrote in an email. “The Governor and the Polis administration’s approach throughout the pandemic has been to help hardworking Coloradans keep up with their rent payments.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first issued an order temporarily stopping evictions on Sept. 4. It was set to expire at the end of 2020 but was extended several times. The CDC expects the current extension to be the final one.
“This 30-day extension, intended to be the final iteration, will allow the assessment of natural changes to COVID-19 incidence, the influences of new variants, additional distribution of emergency rental assistance funds and the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine uptake,” the order states.
In conjunction with some of the extensions, Congress provided $25 billion for emergency rental assistance and later supplemented that with an additional $21.55 billion through the American Rescue Plan Act.
That’s been an important piece as Boulder has worked to get its own program off the ground.
In terms of rental assistance, Deputy Director of Housing and Human Services Kristin Hyser said the Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program considers the various channels available, whether that be local dollars, county money that’s flowed through from the federal government or money from the various county family resource centers.
“When somebody calls in, we assess their situation and identify … the best access point for them based on their circumstance,” Hyser said.
Since Boulder’s program officially began at the start of the year, it’s helped approximately 90 people. Additionally, Boulder County has been working to match services, considering the weekly eviction court is coordinated by the county and many tenants are not city residents.
Legal services are provided through a contract with Bridge to Justice, a Boulder-based nonprofit that provides civil legal services to low- and moderate-income Coloradans who do not qualify for free legal aid.
More than anything, those involved with Boulder’s program stressed the importance of seeking help early in the process. That’s always been important but will become particularly so if there’s an influx of need.
“It is just critically important that a tenant engages with all of these resources as soon as possible because then that just gives us more opportunity to bring the appropriate tools and solutions before it becomes a dire situation,” Hyser said.
And it’s crucial for tenants to show up to eviction court, Armstrong added.
“If you don’t show up at court, that’s it,” she said. “It’s a default judgment for the landlord as long as they filed their paperwork correctly.”
For more information, visit bouldercolorado.gov/community-relations/eviction-prevention-services. That website includes a phone number and online application for the free services.