Coloradans will be unable to apply for new emergency rental assistance beginning in two weeks, the state announced Thursday morning as it winds down a program that helped keep tens of thousands of residents housed during the pandemic.
New applications 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 state Department of Local Affairs 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 homes 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 up and return to pre-pandemic levels.
The state will prioritize using remaining funds to prevent imminent evictions, according to the announcement. But it’s unclear what, if anything, the state — let alone Congress — will do to supplement the rental assistance money or to replace it, once it runs out. The scale of the money allocated by Congress isn’t easily replaceable, on a local or state level: State officials said in October that they hoped to allocate $15 million to $20 million in annual money for rental assistance — roughly what they’re spending in aid now 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 any 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 accompanying the announcement 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, those 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 normal 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.”