Colorado rental assistance program to end as funds run out

Coloradans will be unable to apply for new emergency rental assistance from the state beginning in two weeks, officials announced Thursday morning as a program that helped keep tens of thousands of residents housed during the pandemic moves closer to ending.

New applications to the state Department of Local Affairs won’t be accepted beyond Nov. 15. Previously submitted applications still being reviewed and those already approved will continue to be processed and paid out, the department said in a statement. Some individual cities — including Denver — still have their own rental assistance available, but those funds are beginning to run low, as well, and Denver has already begun to limit its program. The state’s share of the money is expected to run dry at some point in early 2023, state officials previously told the Denver Post.

The state has dolled out roughly $300 million in emergency rental aid to more than 36,000 households over the past two years, thanks to money allocated under the Trump and Biden administrations to keep people housed during the pandemic. But as the nation moves past the health crisis, that funding is running short, just as evictions begin to tick back to pre-pandemic levels.

The state will prioritize using its remaining funds to prevent imminent evictions, according to the announcement, and experts praised the state’s “thoughtful” efforts to use what’s left. But it’s unclear what, if anything, Colorado leaders — let alone Congress — will do to supplement the rental assistance money or to replace it, once it runs out. The funding allocated by the federal government isn’t easily replaced, on a local or state level: Colorado officials said in October that they hoped to find $15 million to $20 million in annual money for rental assistance — roughly what they’ve spent in aid every month.

A coalition of housing providers sent the state Division of Housing a letter earlier this month urging the agency to allocate other federal stimulus money to rental aid, but the division has yet to announce a decision, two providers said Thursday.

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

The wind-down of the program is unsurprising, given the finite amount of money available and previous warning signs, housing advocates said. Still, the announcement renews fears of rising evictions and increased homelessness in a state that continues to battle housing affordability and rising rents.

“We knew that the money would eventually run out,” said Sam Gilman, a cofounder and the president of the Colorado COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “At the same time, we can’t go back to a pre-pandemic normal where there’s no funding for stabilization because of the impact we’ve seen (from the pandemic). Evictions are not a necessity, and this program has proved that.”

Gilman noted that there have been roughly 3,800 evictions filed in Colorado per 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 there is still need for rental assistance. State officials told the Post in September that applications for aid have held steady and not dropped off.

Van Voorhis warned that the emergency rental funding running dry would worsen the housing crisis, “very, very quickly.”

“My biggest fear as someone who works with providers within the continuum is really that we are stretched thin with service providers, stretched thin in trying to provide shelter for those who are already unhoused,” she said. “If we shut this off, if this goes away, it is inevitable that we’re going to continue to see this mass flow of families and children and seniors and individuals who are going to become unhoused and fall into the homeless continuum.”

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