Aurora, region preparing for housing havoc when eviction, foreclosure embargoes end

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Heather Morgan, center, grabs meals from a tall boy container to give to families of APS students, May 1, 2020 at North Middle School. As of this date, APS has distributed more than half a million meals to families in the Aurora Public Schools District. The same economic crisis driving the need for food could drive the need for rental assistance programs soon.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Anticipating a housing crisis when eviction and foreclosure bans end, local governments are preparing to dole out millions of dollars to Aurora-area residents who can’t make housing payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying business restrictions.

Local government planners are expecting the clock to run out on eviction and foreclosure embargoes sometime this summer, putting out-of-work tenants and residents saddled with mortgage debt in grim situations without assistance.

Gov. Jared Polis instituted a month-long, statewide ban on evictions and late fees for renters last week, giving some breathing room for tenants worried about making rent.  Following Polis’ executive order Thursday, Arapahoe County and Adams County also suspended new foreclosures during the month of May.

The moves build off federal foreclosure and eviction bans that apply to specific property owners and residents, including people living in a property purchased with federal agency loans.

But when all the measures run out, officials say residents could quickly be on the hook for missed rent payments and possibly face eviction or foreclosure proceedings.

“Sooner or later, that bill is coming due,” said Linda Haley, division manager of Arapahoe County’s housing and community development department.

It’s a rainy day local planners are gearing up for.

Arapahoe County is building a nearly $600,000 housing relief fund from federal grants and other sources of revenue, Haley told the Sentinel Monday. Adams County, covering part of north Aurora, launched a $300,000 rental and mortgage assistance fund last month.

Both of these funds are only available to residents who meet income requirements. The Adams County relief fund, for instance, is reserved for those whose “household income has been impacted by COVID-19 on or after March 11, 2020,” and household income can’t exceed can’t exceed 80 percent of the area median income. For the Aurora area, that limit is about $78,000 for a family of four.

Aurora’s city government will be also expanding its usual eviction-prevention and housing programs to dole out potentially millions of dollars in federal grants and locally-generated revenue for renting residents who need it.

“We want to flatten the curve of evictions, so when this is over, and the stay-at-home order is over, we have prevented some of the evictions that are bound to hit us… and foreclosures,” said Shelley McKittrick, the city of Aurora’s homelessness program director.

She said the city is counting on about $2.5 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funds to help keep people in their homes, which will be combined with city marijuana revenue dollars usually slated for homelessness prevention and services programming.

The ambitious program represents an expansion of the City’s usual housing programs. Through partnerships, City dollars regularly make their way to the wallets of homeless residents, either to help them move, or to pay for steep moving costs like security deposits, first and last-month’s rent.  

Now, McKittrick is expecting that more wealthy residents will also need assistance to pay rent.

She said she recently spoke with residents in an affluent southeast Aurora neighborhood who have lost their income and can’t make rent. The city’s own dollars will likely be slated to help residents like these, McKittrick said, even if the recipient wouldn’t otherwise make the cut for federal dollars that come with income limits for eligibility, or if they don’t have the required documents.

Residents will be able to visit a city government website and apply.

But it’s not clear when the city’s housing fund will launch. McKittrick said she’s aiming to smooth out the kinks before the eviction ban ends, and a “flood” of eviction cases could hit the courts.

Last month, Denver-based Eviction Defense Project estimated 500,000 tenants in Colorado are at risk of being evicted when the temporary bans expire — about a quarter of the more than 2 million total tenants in the state, according to the group.

Jack Regenbogen, a policy advocate at the Colorado Center on Law and Poverty, said the threat calls for long-term solutions. He’s worried that the state could see a “historic” spike in evictions this summer and in the fall if resources like relief funds or forgiveness programs aren’t set up across the state.

“Without serious policy interventions, I think we are witnessing a catastrophic situation for our housing market,” he said.