COLORADO SPRINGS — The Trump administration announced this week that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will use their authority to protect public health by putting a temporary ban on evictions through the end of 2020.
The document is currently unpublished, but it's expected to go into effect this Friday, September 4. In the notice, the CDC states evictions can lead to homelessness or crowded living situations, which can further spread coronavirus.
The notice does not relieve anyone of paying rent indefinitely. "That rent is still due, so whenever this moratorium gets lifted, that rent just increases every month they go without paying," said Elena Wilken, the executive director of Housing Colorado.
Under the eviction moratorium, landlords are still allowed to evict tenants for issues not related to rent payments. Wilken said this helps protect landlords from tenants who may try and take advantage of the system.
Toward the end of the document, there is a declaration that must be signed to qualify for this eviction exemption. The tenant must be able to prove a variety of things, including attempts to secure assistance for housing, and that in the case of eviction, they would likely become homeless. "We haven't seen that level of scrutiny before," said Wilken.
The moratorium would only apply to people making $99,000 a year or less. The annual salary for a couple increases the threshold to $198,000.
The temporary halt in residential evictions from the CDC used data from the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project and the Aspen Institute, which estimated that without any protections, 30-40 million Americans would be at risk of eviction. In Colorado, that breaks down to around 400,000 people at risk of evictions, in the absence of any protections.
"This is much bigger, much more dramatic and significant than we expected," said Zach Neumann, the founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which provides legal representation for people facing eviction during the pandemic.
Neumann said this moratorium is just the first step. He said it may help solve the problem of homelessness, but is not the financial solution. "I don't think this is by any means a bad policy. I think it's going to stabilize thousands of families across the state and avoid mass homelessness, but I don't think it goes far enough," said Neumann.
He continued to say this policy only forestalls harm, but does not actually prevent it. Neumann wants to see congressionally approved funding mechanisms to support the housing market. "Full federal rent relief. Close to $100 billion in federal rent relief, so that all tenants in the U.S. are able to catch up on their rent, and then their landlords are able to turn around and pay their mortgages," said Neumann.
However, the Colorado Apartment Association believes this is a bad policy. They are a trade association for landlords, and represent around 75% of all landlords in the state. "The Centers for Disease Control meddling in this, they've got bigger fish to fry... These types of moratoriums uniquely hurt small landlords," said Drew Hamrick, the general counsel and vice president of government affairs for the association.
Hamrick said in Colorado, depending on the county, it takes anywhere from two to three months to evict someone. He called it a costly process, and the last thing a landlord wants to do. "Here in Colorado, rent collections are very strong. They're currently at 94.7%. That's only about two percentage points below what a pre-COVID number ought to look like... And evictions are extremely low. Currently evictions, at least the filings, are running at about 25% of the normal level. They're at a 20 year low," said Hamrick.
Hamrick said Colorado is doing a touch better than the rest of the country when it comes to paying rent. Still, he sees nothing to indicate a wave of evictions coming in 2021, when the nationwide moratorium would expire.
"We hear stories all the time from retirees, that this is their only source of income, and they can't make the mortgage payment. Because even though the payment rates remain high, their particular residents aren't paying," said Hamrick.
News5 reached out to Governor Jared Polis' office about the new notice. A spokesperson provided us with this statement:
“Our administration is currently reviewing this recent federal action to see if it will really help Coloradans or is just empty words. The Governor has urged the federal government to take meaningful steps to address the most pervasive housing challenges Coloradans are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic including rent assistance to help keep people in their homes. The Governor continues to call on the U.S. Senate to include a robust emergency rental assistance package in the urgent next round of stimulus relief.”
Wilken encouraged people turn to the financial support available to them on the state level. For rental and foreclosure assistance, as well as support for landlords, Colorado has directed around $20 million of CARES Act money to help. Tenants can apply for Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance for Households (EHAP), and landlords can submit for the Emergency Rental Assistance for Property Owners (POP).
Here in Colorado Springs, the CEO of Catholic Charities, Andy Barton, said they have been providing rental assistance. The money has come from a variety of sources. "What we found is with the impact to those, especially those living on the margins through this pandemic, that that rent expense is kind of the primary need that they're coming up with," said Barton.
Barton added that this year has been unique with the amount of money they have distributed. "We'll usually give away $70,000 a year in rent assistance on a big year. We've given away about $350,000 to this point, since April of this year," said Barton.
If you need rental or mortgage assistance, call 211 and they can help direct you.
News5 also reached out to Springs Rescue Mission, who said they have seen their seasonal fluctuations, but have not experienced a noticeable increase in newly evicted people they can attribute to the pandemic.