DENVER — Employees in the Housing Division of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) are trying to catch up with the thousands of rental assistance requests the office received in the first month of 2021.
The department oversees two rental assistant programs that help those impacted by the pandemic.
Brett McPherson, the department's spokesperson, sat down with 9NEWS to explain why they are seeing a surge in requests and what they are doing about it.
(Editor's Note: Answers have been edited for context and clarity.)
What pandemic-related rental assistance programs does the housing division of DOLA oversee?
McPherson: The Housing Division oversees the Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP) and the Property Owner Preservation Program (POP).
EHAP essentially pays the rent for those that have been affected by the pandemic and are not able to pay their own rent in order to keep them stably housed.
POP is for landlords to come directly to DOLA and apply to have their tenants rent paid on their behalf. This is by far the larger of the programs. We have landlords that have one tenant all the way up to landlords that have hundreds of tenants in which they might apply for all at the same time to get those rent payments covered.
How much has DOLA distributed in rental assistance since the start of the pandemic?
McPherson: In 2020 we had a total of $44.5 million in rental assistance requests. The applications between the total programs totaled 18,250.
In January 2021, the request from both programs totaled $53.8 million and the amount of applications we had for POP and EHAP combined were around 14,300 applications.
Why did we see such a surge in need for assistance in January?
McPherson: The unemployment a lot of the folks were on ended. The eviction mortarium also ran out. The state eviction moratorium ran out Dec. 31 and even though the federal moratorium has now since been extended, the number of folks concerned about being able to pay their rent towards the end of 2020 seems to have skyrocketed and that’s when they started looking for assistance from the state.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) also started informing folks that were going on unemployment, that they could get this rental assistance so that’s when applications started skyrocketing due to those several factors.
Will see the need for rental assistance increase in the months ahead?
McPherson: That’s hard to forecast because a lot of it depends on federal stimulus packages, what gets passed with the Biden administration and the new Congress, what they're working on will impact what can go into people’s pockets, whether they can pay rent or not and of course the job market, how many people go back to work as businesses reopen those types of things. It makes it hard to estimate what the demand is going to be.
How has DOLA handled the increase in requests?
Every single person who needs help counts. We want every Coloradan safely and stably housed.
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