Are Colorado Officials Underestimating the Potential for an Eviction Crisis?
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
In 2017, Amanda Friedman, 30, moved to Denver, Colorado "to be closer to world-class rock climbing". She was struck by how difficult it was to find housing. Image by Tiny Froglet on Flickr.
I can hear it from here. The proverbial clinking of champagne glasses from Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Colorado based Landlords and local Apartment Associations as the Colorado Apartment Association revealed that 95.4% of tenants had paid their residential rent by late June and 96.3% of tenants made their residential rent payment by July 27. The Colorado Apartment Association reports that evictions are at an all time low, with only 458 being filed in July. Mark Williams, executive vice president of the Colorado Apartment Association commented on the positive news,“Rent payments have remained high, in the mid ninety percentages, all through the COVID closures. July was particularly strong and better than some had speculated, now that we’re entering the fifth month of COVID-19 restrictions. While evictions may creep closer to normal rates in August, the number of evictions is far, far below Colorado’s averages, and we attribute this to the way the community has stepped forward to help renters.” In another article he continued to reassure readers, “We continue to see strong rent payments in the fourth month after the coronavirus shutdowns began. This is a sign that Colorado renters and housing providers both are committed in identifying payment solutions for those residents being impacted by the crisis.” The numbers justified ending the eviction moratorium June 13, 2020, which was made effective by Governor Polis initially on March 20, 2020 and then renewed with stricter guidelines April 30, 2020.
But just barely above the celebrations, I hear other sounds. They are the sounds of tired and hungry grumbling stomachs and muffled cries steeped in anxiety. What are people sacrificing to be able to pay rent in the middle of a pandemic? Ironically tenants are sacrificing products and services that are integral to public health such as food and medicine. “As housing becomes more and more unaffordable or takes up a greater proportion of an individual or household budget, people often end up having to make really impossible choices or trade-offs between what we pay for,” Kyle Legleiter, senior director of policy advocacy for the Denver-based Colorado Health Foundation comments when discussing Colorado’s exorbitant rent prices prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Do we pay for our rent or our mortgage? Should we pay to put food on our table? (Or) do we pay health insurance premiums or childcare or other things that are really important to our overall well-being?” Kendra Tallant of Colorado who was furloughed from her job in early March 2020 at a resort handling reservations has personal experience with this dilemma. “I was just flabbergasted,” Tallant said. “We were forced to not work by no fault of our own. These places are just not working with us, and we’re having to choose between whether we can eat or pay rent.” Alexander Stockton and Nicole Stockton had both lost their jobs by March 2020. They were able to pay rent after borrowing money from family yet Stockton commented, “So we’ll still be able to make full rent next month, but it’s going to be tight with food.” The question remains, how long will these celebratory numbers continue? Even more quiet are the sounds of hopeless tenants packing up their items to move before being officially evicted by the court. Are the celebratory numbers of today preventing the government and other officials from taking the action needed to prevent a possible eviction crisis tomorrow?
The Forgotten Housing Crisis
A mix of unsavory conditions have interacted to create a housing crisis in Colorado of epic proportions. Colorado’s housing stock is still reeling from the effects of the 2008 Great Recession; many in ironic ways. Since Colorado’s economy continued to expand despite the recession, Colorado’s population grew exponentially as millions moved to the area looking for opportunities in tech and oil. However structural issues deriving from the Great Recession such as the restricted access to credit during population boom and shortage construction workers since many were laid off and issues apart from the Great Recession such as little land being zoned for residential purposes and the decline in construction permits; has hindered the amount of housing that could be built to accommodate the accelerated population growth. This is a sharp contrast to when in 2006, Colorado was left with 96,541 more units than households. However Colorado’s current housing crisis has been dropped from the conversation. According to Jennie Rodgers, the Vice President and Market Leader of Enterprise Community Partners in Denver, just in the city of Denver alone 15,000 units for affordable housing was needed as of June 19, 2019. According to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, approximately 280,000 Colorado households pay at least half of their income to their housing. Phyllis Resnick, the lead economist for the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, stated in a 2018 report that in Denver, Colorado 32,000 housing units were needed to satisfy housing demand and that it could take 10 years to correct the imbalance. Amanda Friedman, 30, who moved to Denver, Colorado in 2017 tells the story behind these numbers, "What has surprised me is how competitive the market is, like how quickly places are posted and have applications. Even the crappy areas with someone looking for a roommate."
However even as Colorado’s economy expanded, many low-income workers were left behind and not reaping the benefits of this economy. The housing costs in Colorado notoriously exceed what tenants can afford. Data by Resnick also revealed that since 2011 rent increased by 46.2 percent in metro Denver while wages did not keep up the pace and only increased by 11.4 percent. Shelly Kwiek, who only earned $13.50 an hour as of February 2020 as an office assistant in Salida, was only able to afford housing to accommodate herself and four teenagers through housing at the Collegiate Commons apartment complex which is supported by federal low-income house tax credits. Callee Moran comments, “There’s not much that’s affordable on a minimum wage salary.” Rhema Zlaten, a Colorado Mesa University journalism professor, noticed a trend on housing boards in Palisade, people who search for housing in the range of $800 to $900 a month were rebuffed,”... everyone’s like, 'There’s no rent like that here in town or in Grand Junction,'” she said,“It’s hard to see, and I have no clue what the answer is.” A 2017 report by Freddie Mac revealed that the amount of housing available to residents in Colorado who earned less than half of the median income had plunged by more than 75% between 2010 and 2016. The pandemic puts an added burden on households that were already burdened by all these issues prior to the pandemic. Colorado has implemented robust rental assistance programs with Governor Polis allocating $3 million towards emergency rental assistance and counties such as Adams County allowing landlords to apply for rental assistance on behalf of their tenants but the funds are limited and the housing crisis is vast.
Are the Numbers a Mirage? Is an Eviction Crisis on the Horizon?
Colorado Governor Polis, landlords and apartment associations feel confident that the eviction moratorium which expired June 13, 2020 is an executive order that is no longer needed and can be buried in the past. Governor Polis proudly points to Colorado’s bustling economy and its ability to absorb people who are unemployed. He told reporters that “he believes people should generally be back at work and they should be able to cover rent.” Governor Polis insinuates that he believes that the extended 30 day notice to pay rent is sufficient time to handle financial issues that are impeding rent payment. In the executive order which extended the notice period from 10 days to 30 days, he also transferred power from the state to the landlord with the clause stating that, “I encourage landlords to take steps to limit evictions for tenants who have made a good faith effort to make rental payments or who have made a good faith effort to establish a repayment agreement.” But are landlords ready to have the power to determine which tenants are worthy of being evicted or not?
Colorado landlords and apartment associations believe that policy and other structures in place will prevent an eviction landslide. “You’re not going to see a 10-fold increase in the evictions number,” Drew Hamrick, senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, said last week. “The landlord doesn’t make any money on empty units, and obviously we all need a place to live.” Others are doubting that struggling renters will even be evicted. “Only about 5% of all filed eviction cases actually result in a sheriff enforced move-out,” said Victor Sulzer, partner at Colorado law firm, Tschetter Sulzer. “Fully 95% of eviction filings get settled in some fashion during the long court process.”
A happy ending? Tiffany Quintana finally received her unemployment. She briefly moved into a motel then signed lease to an apartment. Image of Colorado Motel by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.
However Colorado’s housing culture and the pandemic’s effects on the economy tell another story. Colorado’s unemployment was 10.5% as of June. Some counties are experiencing even higher unemployment with Giplin at 19.7%, San Miguel at 17.1%, Summit at 16.6%, Pitkin at 16.0% and Eagle at 15.7%. Colorado’s economy is still in recovery and rebuilding phase from a relatively novel experience. Making demands from such an economy would be like moving into a house that only has the foundation built. With the unemployment rate at these levels, it will probably take many several months to find another job. Just in the accommodation and food service sector alone, there are about 66,400 fewer jobs than compared to a year ago. In addition, more than 2,500 establishments have shut down since March 2020. The workers from these industries may not be able to transfer their skills to another industry in 30 days. Other restaurants are operating at a lower capacity and therefore will not be able to readily employ the thousands that have been laid off or left jobless after their workplace closed permanently.
Colorado’s eviction culture is strong as evidenced by its five cities, Aurora, Thornton, Colorado Springs, Westminster and Lakewood, making it to the top 100 large cities who evict the most. Colorado also ranked in the bottom 10 states for the lack of protections for renters during Covid-19. While Victor Sulzer claims that most evictions are settled, it does not mean that 95% of those tenants were able to stay. I believe that housing is so difficult to secure that tenants would rather quickly move out than risk getting an eviction on their record. For example, Tiffany Quintana left her apartment the day her landlord asked her to leave in early May to avoid having an eviction on her record. Reality is given by new numbers, by the nonprofit Aspen Institute that between 436,000 and 596,000 people in Colorado, 25%-36% of renters, are at risk of eviction by the end of 2020. But a motley of officials are not considering these numbers nor are they preparing.
Jack Regenbogen, senior attorney at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy who specializes in housing issues provides a more honest forecast, “I think you’re going to see things begin to get very bad over the next few months or so. And I would love to be wrong about that. But I would be willing to bet that without some type of additional policy intervention, we’re going to see some possibly historic rates of eviction in Colorado.” Protesters are attempting to fill in the gap for the lapse in state response, “Unless we want more people on the street, this is what we have to do,” said Iris Butler, who joined the protest. Since power has transferred from the Governor to the landlords, protestors are attempting to block landlords from filing evictions but this response is not enough. Colorado renters for now are holding strong but if the situation worsens hopefully Governor Polis will put in place measures to alleviate the situation. Kendra Tallant commented on the situation once her lawyer discovered she was protected from eviction by the Federal CARES ACT. “The state still needs to step in and do more, too, because not everyone is going to fall under those circumstances.”
CBS Denver: Group Blocks Denver Municipal Building To Protest Evictions, article published August 6, 2020.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis: D 2020 12 Executive Order, order effective March 20, 2020.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis: D 2020 51 Executive Order, order effective April 30, 2020.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis: D 2020 162 Executive Order, order effective August 10, 2020.
Colorado Newsline: Landlords in Adams County can apply for rental assistance on behalf of tenants, article published August 6, 2020.
Colorado Official State Web Portal: Press Release: Colorado Employment Situation June 2020, press release published July 17, 2020.
Colorado Public Radio: Colorado Eviction Cases Can Begin In 30 Days Under Governor’s New Order, article published June 13, 2020.
Colorado Public Radio: Colorado Evictions Guide: What To Know If You’re Dealing With An Eviction During Coronavirus, guide published July 16, 2020.
Colorado Public Radio: Colorado Voters Are Worried About The Cost Of Housing. They’re Not Alone, article published February 27, 2020.
Colorado Public Radio: Coronavirus Homelessness Has Already Hit Colorado. She Was One Of The First, article published July 13, 2020.
The Colorado Sun: Colorado’s housing crisis has gotten so bad that small towns are now building people homes, article published February 18, 2020.
The Colorado Sun: Many Colorado restaurants have closed. The ones still open aren’t sure how long they can weather coronavirus, August 4, 2020.
The Colorado Sun: “We have nowhere to go”: Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans at risk of eviction, June 19, 2020.
CNN Business: How Colorado became one of the least affordable places to live in the U.S., article published November 1, 2017.
Denver Business Journal: Colorado's economy grew faster in 2008, despite recession, article published June 2, 2009.
The Denver Post: Colorado’s housing crunch reaches beyond Front Range, as mountain and plains communities struggle to provide affordable options, article published February 16, 2020.
The Denver Post: Denver activists blocking Webb Municipal Building doors to protest evictions during pandemic, article published August 6, 2020.
The Denver Post: Denver’s chronic housing shortage may peak this year with deficit of 32,000 homes and apartments, article published January 18, 2018.
The Denver Post: Executive order from Gov. Polis lets evictions continue but preserves some renter protections, article published August 10, 2020.
KUNC: Colorado Landlords Are Evicting Tenants Again, And The Oldest Cases Are First In Line, article published June 26, 2020.
NBC News: No money, but rent is due: In Colorado, few eviction protections as coronavirus spreads, article published April 22, 2020.
OutThereColorado: The unhealthy impact of housing costs in Colorado, article published August 19, 2019.
Pagosa Daily Post: 25% of Colorado Renters at Risk of Eviction?, article published August 11, 2020.
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