Explainer: Housing Prices Increase; So Does Homelessness

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

DENVER (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who were behind on their rents.

Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in Colorado:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis joined other states in halting evictions during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but he allowed the order to expire in 2021, leaving only the CDC moratorium. The governor had also issued orders preventing landlords from assessing fees for late rent until the end of 2020.

While many pandemic-era orders expired with the start of the new year, the state had extended executive orders that required landlords serve 30-day rent demands rather than the original 10-day notices.

On Monday, Colorado state lawmakers, city mayors, council members and organization leaders signed a letter to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis asking him to provide tenants who are actively seeking rental assistance an additional two months to avoid being evicted.

In response, Polis signed an executive order Friday that allows residents with pending rental assistance applications a 30-day extension to settle outstanding rent payments before being evicted. The order goes into effect Sunday, the day after the federal mortarium ends.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

Colorado received $247 million for rental and utility assistance from the federal government and distributes the money through the Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The funds are eligible for people who make less than 80% of the area median income where they live and can be used for owed rent, plus another two months. Several nonprofits in the state are also offering aid for food and utility bills.

The state has received nearly 16,500 applications but approved a little more than 1,300 applications and awarded $4.5 million funds through the Colorado rental assistance program as of Monday, according to the Colorado Division of Housing's dashboard.

However, renters are seeing payment delays because of fraud, according to a spokesperson for the state's Department of Local Affairs.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Jurisdictions are handling court proceedings differently, but many of them are in the process of going back to in-person.

Nearly 10,200 evictions have been filed in state courts since the beginning of 2021, which is around 14% more filings than the same time frame last year.

WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

In the Denver metro area, the median rental price increased 10.2% between 2020 and 2021 to $1,820. The increase was even greater for a two-bedroom apartment over the year with 13.3% rise and a $2,125 median rental price, according to Realtor.com.

Colorado has some of the highest housing costs of landlocked states “comparable to urbanized coastal regions,” said Jonathan Cappelli, director of the Neighborhood Development Collaborative, a group of metro-Denver nonprofits that aim to provide affordable housing.

Currently, 50.9% of Colorado renter households are “cost burdened,” with housing taking up more than 30% of total household income and 26% of renters are “severely cost-burdened,” with rent occupying more than 50% of household income — making Colorado the fourth most expensive state in the country after Florida, California and New York, according to data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

“Like many states, the recession brought a large number of foreclosures in low-income and minority-majority neighborhoods. Those properties were often bought by investors who flipped or rented the homes in a way that drove up land values and led to gentrification pressures on neighboring households,” Cappelli said.

On July 16, Colorado Legislature leaders appointed lawmakers to an affordable housing task force to recommend policies and implementations for $400 million in federal funds awarded to Colorado in the American Rescue Plan Act to go towards future housing efforts.

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative found more than 6,100 people experiencing homelessness in the Denver metro region for their Point in Time survey on a night in January 2020. The visibility of homeless encampments throughout the capital has led to numerous sweeps by the city and has been met with anger and frustration by activists for the lack of public solutions, especially during a pandemic.

More than 55,000 Colorado renters may face evictions over the next two months, according to Census data.

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Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.