Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.
At a time when renters across the country are struggling to keep up with monthly payments, two members of Denver city council are pushing for an ordinance that would give many tenants in that city legal defense during an eviction process.
“We have to find better ways to support our residents upstream so that they don’t become homeless,” says councilor Amanda Sawyer, who supports the proposal with councilor Candi CdeBaca.
The ordinance would guarantee tenants who earn 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less the right to legal defense against eviction. Sawyer and CdeBaca have previously asked Denver Treasury Department officials to allocate the CARES Act and American Recovery Act funds to the program for the years 2021-2024 so that the federal funds can cover the legal protection program setup and pay for it in the first years of operation. The two council representatives estimate that the program will cost approximately $ 4 million annually to operate when it goes live.
Councilor Sawyer and I are bringing in this eviction defense right to deliberate the ordinance with a real sense of urgency: Housing is one of our most basic needs as humans. And ultimately, our aim with this legislation is to prevent evictions and so on Many people were housed as well as possible during the current housing crisis, which took place before COVID and will only be tightened by the lifting of the eviction moratorium at the end of June, “says CdeBaca.
The city of Denver has had a pilot evacuation defense fund since mid-2018. However, due to a lack of funding, the lawyers made available under this program were only able to help a fraction of the needy people affected by an eviction.
And evacuation has become particularly urgent during the pandemic. Since Governor Jared Polis let the last eviction moratorium expire, the state has put in place nothing but the federal moratorium introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This moratorium prevents evictions from tenants who can show they have experienced a COVID-related financial hardship but are trying but unable to afford rent and have exhausted other avenues for relief.
However, many people at risk of eviction are not affected by the CDC moratorium requirements and can go through an eviction procedure without legal assistance. A study of eviction cases in Denver from 2001 to 2017, conducted by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, found that landlords were lawyers 89 percent of the time, while tenants had legal counsel less than 1 percent of the time.
“The few tenants who can get legal assistance are far more likely to negotiate an outcome that will allow them to stay housed, have more time to move, or at least prevent a negative judgment from being put on their files,” says Jack Regenbogen, a senior attorney with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.
The customers served by the Denver pilot in 2018 saw largely positive results, according to Sawyer. While 70 percent of them were still moving, they received no judgment against them, and 28 percent remained in their homes without judgment; 2 percent received a verdict and had to leave their homes. A judgment can have a significant impact on a person and make it difficult to rent in the future.
Sawyer characterizes the proposed Legal Protection Ordinance as a win-win-win for renters, landlords and the city, as guaranteed legal defense can guarantee “better results,” she says. And the city saves money by investing upfront and preventing people from becoming homeless, where costs multiply.
Today, May 4th, Sawyer and CdeBaca will submit their proposal to the Denver City Council’s Security, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee, which should give the move the go-ahead before it goes to the full council for approval.
Sawyer says her fellow councilors “generally support” the regulation. On May 3, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a rental property proposal that would, among other things, require some basic housing guarantees for renters.
But there will be resistance from the Colorado Apartment Association. “This ordinance seeks to use federal emergency funds to subsidize lawsuits rather than helping those with COVID-related financial difficulties when homeowners, rental apartment providers and local residents are struggling to recover,” said a statement from the organization Die Ordinance is taking away the very resources that could keep residents and rental apartment providers afloat. “
Further rental-related proposals are also in the works. Members of the Denver Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America are currently collecting signatures for a universal legal protection fund that will levy a tax of $ 75 on every residential unit in the city and potentially generate up to $ 12 million in the first year. If proponents submit 9,184 valid signatures to the Denver Elections Division by early July, voters will see the move on the November 2021 ballot.
Sawyer rejects this initiative. “It doesn’t fit in very well with our city processes, and that’s the problem,” she says, noting that it could affect the implementation of the Eviction Ordinance Ordinance and the establishment of the licensing system just approved by the council.
On the flip side, CdeBaca supports the election initiative that would give all Denver residents who are about to be evicted, access to legal defense, regardless of income. She noted, however, that “the process of collecting signatures and getting the initiative in front of the voters for the November election has a longer deadline. The bill that we are putting to the committee was drawn up with the aim of getting it swiftly approved in the Council saying goodbye.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Colorado Apartment Association.
Keep Westword Free … Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we want to keep it that way. We offer our readers free access to concise coverage of local news, food and culture. Produce stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands with bold reporting, stylish writing, and staff everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Feature Writing Award to the Casey Medal for the Deservable Journalism have won. Given that the existence of local journalism amid siege and setbacks has a greater impact on advertising revenue, it is more important than ever for us to raise support for funding our local journalism. You can help by joining our I Support membership program which allows us to continue to cover Denver without paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.