Denver stopped accepting new applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at 11:59 p.m. Friday as federal money allocated to support struggling renters in the city and state dries up.
Applications that came in ahead of that deadline are still being processed and households already approved for support will not see those payments abruptly stop. But the cutoff was necessary as the city worked to “utilize remaining federal resources in a manner that benefitted the greatest number of households in need,” according to a news release from the housing department.
The leader of a nonprofit organization that has helped distribute millions of dollars of assistance payments to struggling renters in Denver and across Colorado over the last few years is hopeful other, closer-to-home funding sources can be found to keep people in stable housing until the effects of Proposition 123, the recently passed dedicated affordable housing funding mechanism in the state, can be felt next year.
“I think we really need state and local investment to bridge these programs,” said Zach Neumann, co-founder and CEO of the Community Economic Defense Project.
Dating back to 2021, more than $130 million in federal aid has been disbursed to help more than 13,700 Denver households through the program commonly referred to as ERAP, according to city officials. The money, distributed by city and state contractors including the Community Economic Defense Project, has been available to cover rental payments dating as far back as April 2020 as well as utility bills and housing stability services.
On Nov. 1, the Denver Department of Housing Stability, or HOST, started to wind down the local ERAP program, only accepting new, first-time applications since that date. But after Friday even those applications will no longer be accepted, housing department officials said.
“In recent weeks HOST has received a significant increase in the volume of submitted applications,” the city said in a news release earlier this month. “After further analysis and discussions with the State, it has been determined there is a need for Denver ERAP to stop accepting new applications and limiting the number of months of assistance that may be received.”
Between Nov. 1 and Friday afternoon, the city has fielded 1,112 new, first-time applications for ERAP, according to housing department spokeswoman Sabrina Allie.
The city is now capping the length of assistance qualified applicants can tap into at 18 months worth of support, Allie said.
As of mid-October, more than 34,000 households across Colorado had received at least some emergency rental assistance since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The money, roughly $290 million awarded to the state and millions more from local governments like Denver, was provided through federal Coronavirus Relief Funds and the American Rescue Plan Act.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated an affordable housing crisis that predated the pandemic and that has deep disparities that threaten the strength of an economic recovery that must work for everyone,” the U.S. Treasury Department said of the program on its website.
But the funding is finite and Denver is getting to the bottom of its allocation. According to city figures, Denver has just $7.5 million of the $38 million awarded to the city left to spend. Of that, $6 million has been set aside for rental assistance.
The end of these federal programs comes as evictions in the city have ticked back up to pre-pandemic levels. There were 982 eviction cases filed in Denver in October, the first time that number had been above 900 since January 2020, according to data from Denver County Courts staff. Through November, 7,288 eviction cases have been brought in the city compared to 4,894 last year and 3,912 in 2020, years in which state and federal moratoriums protected renters from losing their housing.
Neumann’s organization was one of the biggest rental assistance contractors in the state, processing nearly $100 million in payments and serving more than 31,000 households. Previously named the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, the nonprofit changed its name to Community Economic Defense Project this month as it expands its model to focus on other issues like foreclosures, predatory towing practices and more.
“Stability payments are the most powerful tool we have to stop evictions. Period. Full stop,” Neumann said of the value of ERAP. “Usually, when you can pay your rent, and get current on your account, that’s a defense. You paid.”
Denver Initiated Ordinance 305 losing in November, the only city ballot measure to be defeated in the 2022 election, also hurt renters’ abilities to stay in their homes, Neumann said. The measure would have created a tax on landlords to pay for eviction legal defense services. With opponents sporting a heavy fundraising advantage, 305 was rejected by 57.5% of Denver voters.
But the end of ERAP is not a sky-is-falling scenario. Neumann is looking forward to the impact of Proposition 123. Supported by a majority of voters statewide in last month’s election, that measure is expected to turn a sliver of state income tax revenues into $300 million in affordable housing funding each year starting in 2023 including funding for eviction defense.
It’s just a matter of getting to the point where that money is being distributed and can make a difference. Neumann noted the state legislature is nearing the start of its 2023 session, a chance for lawmakers to intervene.
“What our clients are really looking for is a bridge,” he said. “How do we bridge these programs and continue to provide services in this interim window?”
Denver has its own internal financial assistance program for renters. Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance, or TRUA, was launched in 2017, according to the city. Information about that program can be found at Denvergov.org/RentHelp.Information about legal services to stave off evictions can be found at Denvergov.org/EvictionHelp.