Aurora’s rental aid ‘just getting started’, even as regional pandemic restrictions fade

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AURORA | Despite sunny vaccination figures in the Aurora region and a sense of normalcy beginning to bud, city officials say they’ll continue putting cash directly in the pockets of struggling renters amid ongoing anxiety about housing. 

To date, city government has spent about $3.4 million, mostly in federal funding, on its COVID-19 era Rental Assistance Program. City officials said they’re expecting millions more dollars in city coffers through federal grant programs and the American Rescue Plan, some of which will fund housing programs, and they encouraged renters to apply for help if they need it. 

“If people are still needing assistance, we still have a lot of money to put out there,” said Jessica Prosser, the city’s community development manager.

To apply, visit the city’s Rental Assistance Program web page. An eligible tenant has to prove that the pandemic somehow affected their ability to pay rent, including lost income or childcare expenses. 

Prosser said the pandemic is actually far from over, despite relaxing restrictions and the ongoing vaccine rollout. She expects to spend many more dollars to help keep people housed. 

“We’re just getting started, even if it feels like COVID is ramping down,” she said. 

To date, the Rental Assistance Program has kicked grants to about 775 households. Of those, only 65 received more than one rent grant, according to city data. Ward III residents, in the city’s center, received the most grants, followed by Ward I and Ward IV tenants. 

Aurora is paying for the program almost entirely with federal funds, except for a $300,000 chunk of the city’s marijuana tax revenue.  

Prosser said the program has proved successful at keeping tenants in their homes — a key part of housing strategies across the country during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long said that homeless individuals were especially at-risk to the new coronavirus. In the Denver metroplex, more crowded households have created riskier living situations and help the virus spread. 

And Prosser said it’s just more economical to help prevent homelessness than address it. “Obviously, we want to keep people housed, because it’s much harder to find housing for someone when they’ve lost housing,” Prosser said.

Homelessness apparently ballooned in Aurora during the pandemic. The Rental Assistance Program was just one of several city investments, mostly with federal funds, to house homeless people in their own homes or in motel rooms and an emergency shelter that could close in the next weeks. 

Prosser said Aurora’s housing outlook is still unclear, which warrants more grant spending. 

The city has long suffered from a low supply of rental housing for low-income renters, according to a city housing study last year.  In Colorado, Harvard University data shows that low-income workers have seen much higher unemployment figures than moderate- and high-income employees, suggesting that many Aurora tenants will continue to see slashed incomes affecting their ability to stay housed. 

And Prosser said the removal of pandemic-era eviction bans could put more tenants at-risk of becoming homeless. The CDC’s current eviction moratorium, which allows for some evictions, is set to expire on June 30. 

City officials are expecting another influx of federal cash in the coming weeks that could keep funding cash assistance programs, including the rent help fund. Michael Brannen, a city spokesperson, said Aurora will receive another $73 million through the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month. A portion of that will go toward housing and rent assistance programs. 

Prosser said she’s expecting up to $4 million more in grants this year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — more than usual — which will also help funding more housing projects. 

The cash could be important to help Aurora reach a slate of housing goals beyond the pandemic. Some city goals, including housing hundreds of homeless people and subsidizing affordable housing, are largely contingent on the tap of federal funding. 

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