In times of high unemployment and economic turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are anticipating a spike in evictions across the country due to tenants being unable to pay rent.
Local nonprofit and government organizations have taken notice and are working to address the issue in Leadville and Lake County before it’s too late.
As it stands, state and federal protections have prevented landlords from filing for eviction due to non-payment of rent during the pandemic.
In April, after the initial closure of non-essential businesses, Governor Jared Polis issued a moratorium on landlords filing for eviction due to unpaid rent.
Polis extended the moratorium multiple times, and as state-level eviction protections expired, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order under the Public Health Services Act at the beginning of the month that staves off eviction due to non-payment of rent until the end of the year.
Though the bans have prevented evictions so far, once they expire, there is no permanent solution to prevent the postponed evictions.
At the beginning of the month, Mayor Greg Labbe brought his concerns about the potential for increased evictions, and what it may mean for Leadville, to City Council after attending a presentation explaining the risks.
“If we can’t get in front of this, we’re going to be having to deal with homelessness — a much more difficult problem to tackle than evictions,” Labbe said.
Labbe is not alone in anticipating the crisis.
A report compiled by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a Colorado-based legal advocacy group that formed in response to the pandemic and its impacts on tenants, and the Aspen Institute estimates that 25% of households in the state are at risk of eviction once the temporary bans are lifted.
In response to the situation and its potential to worsen, local nonprofits and public agencies have taken note and are working towards solutions.
Since March, a coalition of local nonprofits and organizations has been meeting as the Unmet Needs Committee (UNC), an organization meant to secure and provide funds to residents at risk of not being able to pay rent and other bills due to COVID-19.
So far, the committee has disbursed $319,665 to community members for housing and other necessary expenses, Stephanie Cole, director of Full Circle of Lake County, said.
The UNC has received funding from a variety of sources, including foundations and private donations, though it has been searching for revenue sources to sustain its work.
At the September 1 City Council meeting, Noah Sosin, a member of the UNC and employee of Lake County Build a Generation, petitioned City Council to contribute money to the UNC from CARES Act funding that the county received in July and which the city and county have both been drawing from.
After securing the $697,192 in federal aid funding, Lake County Government entered into an agreement with the City of Leadville to share the money proportional to the needs of the city and county. Both city and county government approved using part of the funding to support the UNC.
The UNC will draw $100,000 from CARES Act money to continue the program into the future, with the city providing $17,000 from its allotment and the county providing the remaining $83,000 to the program.
While the CARES Act funding will maintain the UNC for the coming months, it is not a long-term solution, and the committee is not meant to serve as a permanent body, Sosin said.
Though the threat of an eviction crisis remains, increased evictions have not yet begun to hit Lake County.
And according to Lake County Judge Jonathan Shamis, no eviction proceedings have been heard by the court this year.
To date, one Forcible Entry and Detainer suit has been filed in Lake County, compared to 72 such cases in 2019. The parties settled and it was not heard by the court, Shamis said.
In anticipation of a possible increase in eviction cases, Lake County Court has increased the capacity of its remote mediation program, which is a popular avenue for settling tenant/landlord disputes.