Amid Colorado’s growing affordable-housing crisis, there are roughly 850 evictions filed with courts every week across the state. According to one news report, there were at least 44,000 evictions filed in Colorado in 2016. Evictions can lead to unnecessary displacement, increased financial insecurity and even transitional or long-term homelessness.
Being evicted is often a cause of poverty that could often be avoided if renters or homeowners get appropriate legal help. Unfortunately, tenants in eviction cases rarely get representation from an attorney and as a result lose their residences. In most cases, tenants who can’t afford an attorney have nowhere to turn and will likely be forced to move out of their homes.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and CCLP released “Facing Eviction Alone,” a study that reviewed 860 eviction cases initiated by the Denver Housing Authority as well as 1,060 cases brought by seven private housing managers.
Among our findings:
* Tenants are almost never represented by legal counsel in eviction cases. While landlords had legal representation in every eviction case reviewed, tenants were represented by in attorney in only about 2 percent of the cases reviewed – putting tenants in a distinct disadvantage.
* Unrepresented tenants often lost possession of their homes. Nearly half of the cases initiated by the Denver Housing Authority and almost 70 percent of the cases initiated by private housing property managers resulted in evictions.
* Attorney assistance significantly improves tenants’ chances of remaining in their homes. The few renters that retained legal counsel usually prevailed in eviction proceedings. The results suggest that having the assistance of a lawyer significantly improves tenants’ prospects of staying in their homes.
* Many evictions were filed due to a dispute over a few dollars of unpaid rent. The authors of the study found one eviction notice filed over an alleged $4 of unpaid rent. The median amount in dispute was slightly higher than $200 in cases filed by DHA.
* Evictions disproportionately affect neighborhoods with more people of color and areas of rapid growth and gentrification. A map in the study illustrates that the areas with the highest concentration of evictions happened to be highest in communities of color from 2014 to 2016. Displacing these households has a devastating effect on families, children and the communities themselves.
Among the recommendations outlined in the study:
* Fund eviction defense. New York City recently enacted a law that guarantees legal representation to any low-income resident facing eviction. Other cities that fund eviction defense include San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are also cities where rentals are high and affordable housing is scarce.
* Revise the due-process procedures for tenants facing evictions. Eviction procedures can be improved to make the process fairer for those who have low levels of literacy or English-language proficiency or for those facing domestic-abuse or mental-health issues.
* Expand the availability of emergency rental assistance. A number of barriers have prevented families from accessing rent assistance, administered by Denver Human Services. Given that many tenants are evicted for relatively small amounts of unpaid rent, expanding the availability of rent assistance would be an effective way to help tenants remain in their homes.
We’re proud of this study and hope it will serve as a catalyst for discussion on this critical issue facing too many Coloradans.
– By Jack Regenbogen