Apr 13, 2021 - News

Denver low-income renters could receive free eviction legal defense

Illustration of a crumpled-up eviction notice in a trash can.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Denver decision-makers want to lower the city’s eviction rate and give renters more protections.

Why it matters: The pandemic exacerbated Denver’s existing housing crisis, leaving thousands more families unable to pay rent and at risk of being kicked out of their homes.

Driving the news: Denver City Council members Candi CdeBaca and Amanda Sawyer are pushing a proposal that would equip lower-income renters with free, permanent legal defense — representation most landlords have but few renters can afford.

  • The proposal builds on the city’s eviction legal defense pilot program that launched in 2018 for residents with household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line.

By the numbers: There were nearly 4,000 evictions in Denver last year, despite state and federal eviction moratoriums, the sponsors say, citing county court data.

  • Denver ranked among the top 10 cities with the highest income needed to cover a two-bedroom rental — about $82,300 — according to a 2020 study by SmartAsset.

Details: The draft ordinance would limit eligibility to renters making 80% of area median income — $54,950 for one person and about $85,000 for a four-person household.

  • It would establish a new office devoted to the program in Denver’s Department of Housing Stability.
  • But the funding amount and cash source are still in the works. A council committee is slated to review the eviction defense ordinance on May 5.

The other side: The Apartment Association of Metro Denver opposes the proposal.

  • "Paying attorneys for evictions that are not occurring rather than paying rent is not a sustainable solution," Drew Hamrick, general counsel for the association, told Axios.

Between the lines: "Evictions disproportionately impact BIPOC communities and create permanent barriers to housing security in the future," CdeBaca told Axios.

  • "Leveling the playing field in eviction legal proceedings by providing a right to have an attorney is as basic as providing an interpreter to communicate legal language and process in plain English."

Of note: A group of tenants’ advocates have filed a similar ballot initiative, but a key difference is funding the program with $12 million annually through a $75 assessment charged to landlords per property they lease, Colorado Politics reports.

The big picture: At the state level, Democratic lawmakers also are working to beef up protections for renters with the introduction of two bills that would:

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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