Colorado rental assistance program to end as funds run out

Coloradans will not be able to apply for new emergency rental assistance from the state for two weeks, officials announced Thursday morning as a program that helped house tens of thousands of residents during the pandemic nears.

New applications to the State Department of Local Affairs will not be accepted after November 15. Previously submitted applications are still being reviewed and those already approved will continue to be processed and paid out, the ministry said in a statement. A few individual cities — including Denver — still have their own rental assistance available, but even those funds are running out, and Denver has already begun to scale back its program. The state’s share of the money is expected to dry up sometime in early 2023, state officials previously told the Denver Post.

The state has paid out about $300 million in emergency rental assistance to more than 36,000 homes over the past two years thanks to funds provided by the Trump and Biden administrations to house people during the pandemic. But as the nation weathers the health crisis, those funds are running out just as evictions fall back to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the announcement, the state will prioritize using its remaining funds to prevent impending evictions, and experts commended the state’s “prudent” efforts to use the remaining funds. But it’s unclear what, if anything, Colorado leaders — let alone Congress — will do to top up or replace the rental support money once it runs out. Funding provided by the federal government isn’t easy to replace at the local or state level: Colorado officials said in October they hoped to find $15 million to $20 million annually in rent subsidies — about what they’ve been spending on aid every month.

A coalition of housing providers earlier this month sent a letter to the state’s Department of Housing urging the agency to allocate other government stimulus money to rent subsidies, but the department has yet to announce a decision, two providers said on Thursday.

The agency did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday morning. The state’s housing rehabilitation manager, Melissa Nereson, said in a statement that the Department of Local Affairs “will continue to work with our state and other contractors as we support those who need further individual assistance.”

The unwinding of the program is not surprising given the limited amount of money available and earlier warning signs, housing advocates said. Still, the announcement renewed fears of rising evictions and rising homelessness in a state that continues to struggle with housing affordability and rising rents.

“We knew the money was going to run out eventually,” said Sam Gilman, co-founder and president of the Colorado COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “At the same time, we cannot go back to a pre-pandemic normal where there is no funding for stabilization because of the impact we have seen (from the pandemic). Evictions are not a necessity and this program has proven that.”

Gilman noted that Colorado had about 3,800 evictions filed a month in late summer and early fall, the highest since the pandemic began in March 2020. He and Kathleen Van Voorhis, the CEO of the Community Investment Alliance, both said it’s still the Case be need for rental support. State officials told the Post in September that requests for aid had remained stable and had not declined.

Van Voorhis warned that makeshift rent financing would make the housing crisis worse “very, very quickly”.

“My biggest fear really as someone who works with providers within the continuum is that we will be overwhelmed with service providers trying to provide shelter to those who are already homeless,” she said. “If we shut that down, if that goes away, it’s inevitable that we’re going to continue to see this mass flow of families and children and seniors and individuals who are going to be left homeless and falling into the homeless continuum.”

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