The second federal stimulus package is poised to deliver a big financial boost to renters across the United States, but it offers only limited protection from evictions — a combination that sets up a major policy decision for Gov. Jared Polis in January.
The bill reportedly includes about $25 billion for rental assistance, which may break down to about $383 million for Colorado, according to estimates from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. Congress is expected to vote on the package Monday night.
That’s a lot of money, at least compared to the state’s efforts so far.
“It’s gonna go really far, I think,” said Zach Neumann, an attorney and advocate with the Colorado-based COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
“Colorado’s share is approaching $400 million. Obviously, that’s seven to eight times more than what Colorado was able to pass (through state law). That is the power of federal legislation.”
But the federal relief package also sets a new deadline for renters who are behind on their bills.
Eviction ban’s new expiration date
The stimulus bill would extend a federal moratorium on evictions for just one more month, until the end of January. It would take further action from Congress to extend the moratorium again — which means that evictions likely could resume in February.
That would leave Gov. Jared Polis to decide whether to keep banning evictions at the state level.
In recent months, Polis has strengthened the existing federal eviction moratorium with additional state protections for renters. But he has not said whether he would keep a state policy in place once the federal moratorium expired. Last week, he signaled that he would mirror Congress, at least for now.
Neumann said that if the ban isn’t extended, there’s a risk the new rental aid won’t reach people before they lose their housing.
“I think what’s scary about that is we all know how long federal money takes to get into people’s pockets,” he said. “The money has to get to states. It then has to get to partner organizations.”
Drew Hamrick, the general counsel for the Colorado Apartment Association, said that the new money erases the need for eviction bans.
“It’s time to end the moratoriums. The funding and the moratoriums are attacking the same issue,” he said. The extra protections ordered by Polis, he said, had created “fringe cases” where renters can’t be evicted even when they refuse to seek help with rent.
The number of evictions in Colorado has trended downward since September, thanks to the combined federal and state policies. “Colorado has been in a fairly good place the last couple of months because Gov. Polis came through with a much stronger moratorium,” Neumann said.
However, the governor recently tweaked the eviction order making it easier for landlords to bring clients to court and question whether they truly qualify for eviction protections due to their financial hardship.
“I think that gives a person the ability to say, ‘I think this declaration is false and I want to submit it to the court to review it,’” Hamrick said.
Polis’ office issued the following statement when asked about his plans: “We are currently reviewing the congressional bill closely. It’s been reported that Congress will pass a federal eviction moratorium policy and we will be monitoring and harmonizing state policy with federal law.”
Evictions also could be a topic for state lawmakers in their upcoming session.
“There is energy at the Capitol to work on housing policy, writ large, and eviction policy specifically. However, it’s all going to be dependent on what deal Congress strikes,” said Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales.
Where the money will go
The exact details of how the new federal aid will roll out remain unclear as state officials review the federal bill.
Some of the money will likely flow into existing state programs that allow landlords and renters to apply for assistance.
Those programs have been distributing between $6 million and $10 million a month, according to state staff. In total, they’ve paid out about $29.5 million to nearly 20,000 households.
At that rate, it would take years to distribute the new federal funds — but the spending also could accelerate as unemployment rates fluctuate in the winter pandemic.
“I think the demand is great, and that’s what we’re seeing across the board,” said state housing director Alison George in an interview earlier this month.
The state also plans to launch a new web portal that will make it easier for individuals to apply for the money in the coming months.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated with comment from Gov. Polis’ office.