DENVER – It’s the first of the month and the rent is due. If the Coloradans are feeling the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the holiday season, there are still millions of federal dollars available to help with rent.
Sarah Buss is the director of Housing Recovery Office at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Her role premiered in August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) provides short-term housing assistance to any household experiencing a negative financial impact due to the pandemic.
“We’ve helped about 16,000 households (statewide) with this assistance so far,” Buss said.
ERAP can help cover rent, dating back to April 2020. It can include overdue, current, and two additional months of rent. The maximum is 15 months of assistance. A person or family must have a median income of 80% or less than the median income in their area to be eligible for the funds.
“You have to be at risk of housing instability, and that’s something you attest to yourself. So basically if you know you’re behind on rent, that can be enough,” Buss said. “You don’t need to face eviction. Please do not wait until you are expelled to apply, as that is when it can be difficult to get the application approved quickly.”
Buss said the state received nearly $248 million in the first round of ERAP, which she says can technically be used through September 2022. She said the second round totaled about $196 million. dollars and was to be spent by September 2025.
She said on average, the state pays about $6,800 per household. Almost $60 million was distributed in Denver County.
Both a tenant and a landlord must apply for PARE funds. Buss said it’s difficult to estimate exactly how long an application takes to be approved.
“If we have someone who carefully completes the application and the owner is responsive and ready, it could be approved within two weeks and then paid within a week. But that’s if everything is really lined up and they’ve submitted all their documentation,” Buss said.
CEO and co-founder of COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, Zach Neumann, said there was an affordable housing crisis in Colorado.
“Don’t take that payday loan. Don’t go into debt to pay your rent. There are currently programs to help you if you are having difficulty. They are already paid. The money is already here in our state. And if you are struggling, you should take advantage of these funds,” Neumann said.
“As the eviction moratorium ended in September, we received an influx of calls, especially for housing assistance,” said Courtney Jensen, executive director of Family Promise of Greater Denver.
Family Promise has various housing assistance funds that are not ERAPs. Jensen said all of their money was likely already allocated for December. She estimated they paid between $30,000 and $40,000 a month.
The latest figures from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) show that the unemployment rate fell to 5.4%. Those with CDLE said Colorado is ahead of the rest of the country in job recovery.
Yet federal figures show that Colorado has one of the the highest “dropout rates” in the country. “A good chunk of that, I would say close to 50%, is natural retirements,” said Joe Barela, executive director of CDLE.
Barela said the pandemic has caused many people to reconsider their jobs, and personal reasons may have spurred professional changes.
“With the record number of job postings we have in Colorado, people are saying, ‘Hey, maybe it’s a good time for me to quit my job and re-evaluate, and maybe get myself. embark on a different career,'” Barela said.
Barela said the unemployment benefits available to Coloradans are a partial wage replacement.
“We’ve seen month-over-month job gains here in Colorado. We’ve also seen a decrease in our unemployment rate, which is a good thing. But we are very close to pre-pandemic levels of initial jobless claims on a weekly basis. So we hovered around 2,000, prior to March 2020. We were right about 2,100 initial claims for unemployment in the state last week,” Barela said.
Barela said mostly that means the Coloradans are getting back to work.