Denver renters facing eviction soon could receive financial aid – and stay in their homes — through new city program

Denver will provide tenants facing eviction in the city’s hot housing market with financial aid to help them avoid losing their homes, Mayor Michael Hancock announced Tuesday.

The new Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance Program, which will debut in November, is one of three initiatives unveiled Tuesday. The others include legally binding mediation services for tenants and their landlords, and a landlord-tenant guide that spells out rights of tenants and landlords in Denver.

The announcement comes as rents, spurred by gentrification, are climbing throughout the metro area.

A study of evictions in Denver between 2014 and 2016 found 8,100 eviction complaints filed in Denver County Court in 2016, and nearly 37,000 evictions filed in other Colorado counties.  

Since 2001 in Denver County, about 80 percent of 93,000 eviction filings resulted in the renter moving out, according to study, released by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

More than 6,000 of the eviction proceedings in Denver last year resulted in renters losing their apartments.

“We want our residents to be able to stay in their homes, build their lives and build their futures,” Hancock said in announcing the effort.

In a telephone interview after the announcement, City Councilwoman Robin Kniech said while the initiative is well-intentioned, it doesn’t provide legal representation needed to fight eviction.

Kniech, who is part of a group studying eviction-related proposals, said the new initiatives “haven’t been fully vetted by the City Council.”

The rent and utility assistance, which won’t be available until November, will provide up to six months of assistance to low- and moderate-income residents facing potential eviction, economic pressures or other crisis that could lead to the loss of a home.

The pilot rental and utility assistance program is receiving about $865,000 through the Affordable Housing Fund. Guidelines for the program — including criteria for applicants — are still being worked out and will be announced when it is launched, said Julie Smith, spokeswoman for Denver Human Services.

To get rid of a tenant who hasn’t paid rent or has violated the terms of the lease, a landlord must give the tenant a signed demand for the rent owed three days before a planned eviction.

That doesn’t leave much time for those facing eviction to get the money they need, but the city’s financial aid effort will ensure they receive the money in time, said Erik Soliván, who heads Denver’s Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE.

Speed is of the essence in these cases, said Jack Regenbogen, staff attorney for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, because once the three days have expired “the landlord can say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ ” to a tenant’s attempt to pay.

The money, which comes from an affordable housing fund overseen by DHS, is available at this time for those in that position. 

The program will be offered through the Denver Office of Economic Development.

DHS will also expand its eviction assistance, which provides a DHS outreach worker on site in eviction court to connect residents with public benefits, such as first month’s rent or housing deposit for a new residence.

The newly announced mediation services will engage an independent mediator to resolve disputes between residential landlords and tenants through negotiation before and after an eviction process is triggered.

Either the landlord or the tenant can ask for the service.

The study, which reviewed 93,000 eviction filings from 2001 through 2016, found that renters facing eviction who had a lawyer usually were able to remain in their home.

However, according to the study, only about 1 percent of renters are represented by council in the cases, while landlords have a lawyer about 90 percent of the time.

Regenbogen, the author of the report, “Facing Eviction Alone,” said New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities have established programs that allocate funds to provide expanded legal defense for low-income tenants.

That issue is being studied by City Council members Kniech and Paul Kashmann, as well as representatives of Denver’s Office of HOPE, Denver County Court judges and others.

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