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'Eviction tsunami': Millions face eviction as moratorium ends Saturday, experts say many in danger

Landlords: No one benefits from a vacant unit
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Posted at 9:42 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 11:17:03-04

DENVER — The letter came without warning.

“Nobody ever came to me,” Latisha Coleman said.

An eviction notice landed on Coleman’s door last week.

“Oh my gosh,” Coleman said. “When I opened up my door, I was like, ‘Oh Lord. What am I going to do?’ I had no idea what I was going to do.”

The letter was dated July 20, 2021, hitting her door just 11 days before the nationwide federal eviction moratorium was set to expire.

Coleman has lived here for three years, but lost her job as a personal caretaker.

“This is my first time ever being on Section 8,” Coleman said. “In my life. The eviction notice is for water, trash and sewer.”

She’s behind on those payments by nearly $1,500, and her complex is telling her pay up or get out, unless she can prove her hardship is COVID-related.

“That’s where these other pages come in,” Coleman said, shuffling through the pieces of paper attached to her eviction notice. “[The manager] said if it’s due to COVID, that I could sit up there and try to save my place.”

Coleman’s anxiety is shared by many at an uncertain time.

“I am concerned about the most vulnerable folks who are maybe in a predatory landlord situation, having zero protections,” said Jonathan Cappelli, director of the Neighborhood Development Collaborative, a coalition of 18 non-profit housing organizations in Colorado.

Cappelli says 30,000 Coloradans have applied for rental assistance due to COVID-19.

“And if a tenant knows the laws, then they know they can apply and cite COVID,” Cappelli said.

The problem with that is many people don’t know how to apply or who to contact for assistance, and the rollout of federal money earmarked for rental relief has been spotty at best.

“We have a lot of unused funds right now,” Cappelli said. “It’s less about not having enough funds and more about the process of getting it out. So, if you need help, you should definitely apply.”

On the flip side of the issue are landlords and property managers.

“No property owner wants to evict a resident for non-payment of rent,” said Rocky Sundling who manages multiple apartment complexes and rental units in Colorado.

Sundling also sits on the board of the Colorado Apartment Association.

“For the property owner, particularly the smaller ones that have had to deal with that and not have that income stream, it’s been life-changing for them as well,” Sundling said.

As Sundling and others have explained, when they don’t get paid, no one gets paid.

“For every $1 of rent we collect, $.91 to $.92 cents of that goes back out into the economy for tax payments, for mortgages, for insurance payments, to pay personnel to run the properties.”

Sundling says despite what’s being reported and what’s rumored to be true, most Coloradans are up to date on rent.

“Ninety-three to 96% of the rents have been paid through the pandemic,” Sundling said.

He says the end of the eviction moratorium does not mean countless notices being slapped on doors across the state.

“It’s really not going to change much,” Sundling said. “We’re still working with residents. Ultimately, a vacant unit doesn’t do anybody any good.”

The Colorado Apartment Association sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“For the first half of 2021, Colorado renters paid their rent at rates higher than the national average,” said Destiny Bossert, spokeswoman for the Colorado Apartment Association. “In June, 97.2% of Colorado renters made their payments, compared to 95.6% nationally. We want people to get back to work. The faster they do, the faster our economy can start to recover.”

Bossert said it’s often the smaller mom-and-pop apartment owners who suffer the most when someone doesn’t pay rent.

“Our smaller housing providers are most at-risk for facing foreclosure or being forced to sell their properties if they can’t meet their mortgage or taxes or employee obligations,” Bossert said. “And often our smaller housing providers do provide the most affordable housing in Colorado. So, it’s important that we keep these small guys in the market.”

But some fear the worst is yet to come.

Nantiya Ruan is a professor of law at the University of Denver. She says we could be facing an ‘eviction tsunami’ as the CDC’s eviction moratorium expires.

“It is real,” Ruan said. “And the way that we gauge it, the way we measure it is housing insecurity. So, how many Coloradans are housing insecure based on the fact that their rent is a high percentage of their pay? And how many kids are in those families? How big those families are? The estimate that I saw from the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project is that 20% of Colorado renters are housing insecure. That means that they don’t know how they’re going to pay for rent next month.”

According the latest census data, 121,000 Coloradans are behind on rent.

“If you have an eviction, then people’s credit is affected, their ability to get another job and their ability to get another apartment to rent is impacted,” Ruan said. “And so, it has pretty significant effects on them once an eviction is put on their record.”

Cappelli says it goes beyond that.

“While 20.9% renters have 'no or slight confidence' in their ability to pay their upcoming rent, 5.9% of homeowners have 'no or slight confidence' in their ability to pay their upcoming mortgage,” Cappelli said. “Let’s not forget that there’s also a nationwide foreclosure moratorium. What happens when that expires as well?”

Cappelli says only 40% of applications for assistance have been processed by the state of Colorado, yet the state still has millions to distribute.

The state of Colorado suggests you go to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, website and apply online. In metro Denver, you can contact Brother’s Redevelopment or Northeast Housing Authority. You can also call 211 anywhere in the state to be connected to local services.

DOLA says it has paid out about $121 million, so far. It has approved nearly 37,000 applications for rental assistance. A little over 10,000 applications have been denied.

The state still has about $50 million to distribute, a problem people are critical of on both sides of the issue.

“If you have an application in, then the moratorium should maybe be extended for those folks who have a valid reason,” Cappelli said. “If you have funds coming, then you shouldn’t be evicted. And that helps the landlord, as well, because you can pay back multiple months of past due rent.”

Bossert agreed that the funding process for rental assistance needs to be sped up.

“Colorado received $247 million for rental and utility assistance in which residents can apply toward past due, current and future rent balances through the ERAP program administered through DOLA,” Bossert said.

The Biden administration has said it cannot extend the moratorium, but it has asked Congress to extend it.

Federal housing officials say we need a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

“The federal housing voucher program has been shown by research to be extremely effective at reducing homelessness and housing instability,” said Will Fischer, director of housing, policy and research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But it’s deeply underfunded. Only about 1 in 4 eligible households gets assistance.”

There are still millions of dollars available to those who need assistance due to COVID-related hardships.

As for Coleman, her issues with her apartment complex off Colorado Boulevard run deeper than the eviction notice.

“We don’t have no AC,” Coleman said. “I’m hotter than a soldier in here.”

She might be one of the lucky ones who can fend off eviction. She just received a prepaid card from the state to help pay her past due utilities.

“I’m hoping I get to stay,” Coleman said. “I don’t know where else I would go.”

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