Tenants facing eviction now have access to rental assistance and legal services through a program Boulder is calling Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services.
The city has been working to stand up this program since the No Eviction Without Representation measure passed last November. In addition to providing mediation and legal services and rental assistance to tenants in Boulder, it also forms a five-person tenant committee that will provide input on the program.
These services are paid for through a new annual $75 excise tax to be paid by landlords on each property that they operate with a rental license. It’s expected to raise $1.9 million in the first fiscal year, according to the initiative’s ballot language.
Since the program officially began at the start of the year, it’s been moving quickly. The city contracted for $50,000 with local nonprofit Bridge to Justice, which is providing legal services. The six-month contract allows the city to offer services immediately, while allowing it some flexibility to adjust as the program evolves.
“While it will not stop all evictions from happening, it will guarantee legal representation and resources are available for all residents at risk of eviction,” Kristin Hyser, Boulder’s deputy director of housing and human services, said during Boulder City Council’s Tuesday study session.
This is important, according to information on the No Eviction Without Representation website, considering 2% of tenants in Boulder County come to eviction court with legal counsel, compared to 88% of landlords.
Lately, city staff said it’s typical to see tenants in court that have fallen behind on rent due to financial challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic. In that scenario, the attorney would advise them to assert their protections under the federal eviction moratorium, and the program coordinator would connect them with rental assistance through Boulder County’s Housing Helpline.
“Not only does this benefit the tenant, but the landlord also gains some financial security through this and is able to retain their tenant rather than having an abrupt lease disruption and dealing with the process of releasing the unit,” Carin Armstrong, who coordinates the city’s community mediation program, said.
An additional focus of Boulder’s new Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services is proactive communication to ensure those facing eviction contact the city about its eviction and rental assistance services prior to their court date. The earlier, the better, according to Armstrong, particularly since those who fail to show for an eviction court date receive an “automatic, default eviction.”
There have been 33 cases on the docket since the program began Jan. 1. Of those, four were Boulder residents. Those who live in Boulder are eligible for the program and have access to an attorney. Those outside the city will meet with a community mediator. Most clients use a combination of legal services, rental assistance and mediation, according to the city.
Thirty-three cases is low since newly elected President Joe Biden extended the eviction moratorium until at least March 31 due to the pandemic, Armstrong noted.
Ruy Arango, who led the No Eviction Without Representation campaign, noted this as well and said it’s important that the program will be in place when the moratorium is lifted.
“The need is great and it’s going to get greater when these eviction moratoriums ultimately run out,” he said. “All of these moratoriums are just pushing what are going to be large mass evictions farther down the line.”
Moving forward, the city will be hiring a permanent coordinator for the program as well as two other staff members, one full-time and one temporary, to assist with administrative and finance work related to the program. Additionally, officials said they will need to rework the ordinance to ensure its efficacy and they have work to do on the tax collection process.
Overall, Arango said he’s pleased with the speed in which the program has progressed.
However, he hopes the city will move faster on the tenant committee, considering it’s meant to ensure that the perspective of the renter is central in the program. Right now, the city has included recruitment and seating of the tenant committee in winter 2021 or 2022 on its timeline.
“Frankly, I think people who work and rent their homes are just going to have a level of insight into this program that people who don’t have to rent their homes won’t have,” Arango said.
Councilmember Aaron Brockett on Tuesday echoed that sentiment, suggesting the city work to form the committee by midyear instead of waiting until early 2022.
“Their voices could be really helpful as we’re developing the program,” he said.
Staff didn’t object to that suggestion. However, they did note that Boulder City Council first must determine how appointees will be selected.
For more information, visit bouldercolorado.gov/community-relations/eviction-prevention-services. That website includes a phone number and online application for services.