OPINION: Too Many Coloradans Face Eviction Without Legal Help
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Colorado Center for Law and Policy released an eye-opening study, “Facing Eviction Alone,” a look into Colorado’s eviction processes and outcomes.
Amid Colorado’s growing affordable-housing crisis, there are roughly 850 evictions filed with courts every week across the state. According to data compiled by the Colorado Judicial Branch and Denver County Court, there were at least 44,000 evictions filed across the state in 2016. Evictions can lead to unnecessary displacement, increased financial insecurity, and transitional or long-term homelessness.
The authors of the study reviewed 860 cases initiated by the Denver Housing Authority as well as 1,060 cases brought by seven private housing managers, reveals that tenants are significantly underrepresented by attorneys in eviction cases in Denver. While landlords were represented in 100 percent of the cases, tenants were represented in only about 2 percent of those same cases. Seventy percent of tenants were evicted when unrepresented while those private-housing tenants who were represented kept their homes 94 percent of the time.
The study is an important indicator that attorney assistance significantly improves a tenant’s opportunity to remain in their home. It also shows that evictions disproportionately affect neighborhoods with more people of color and areas of rapid growth and gentrification.
“Too often, eviction can begin a slippery slope to poverty and homelessness – particularly for families or individuals who are experiencing common but challenging life circumstances like sudden job loss or illness,” said Cathy Alderman, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy at the Colorado Coalition on the Homeless. “With adequate legal representation, many of these tenants could work with landlords and housing authorities to negotiate a solution that would allow them to continue to reside in their homes while they get their lives and finances back in order.”
“No one should face eviction alone,” said Claire Levy, Executive Director of Colorado Center on Law and Policy. “Tenants who are experiencing a crisis in their lives that makes them unable to pay their rent need the assistance of an attorney as they navigate the complex legal system, especially when the other party has a lawyer. In this land whose Pledge of Allegiance extolls ‘justice for all’ and which is built on notions of fairness, people should not be facing the risk of eviction with all the consequences for their children, their jobs and their stability on their own.”
Among the recommendations outlined in the study:
Fund eviction defense. New York City recently enacted a law that guarantees legal representation to any low-income resident facing eviction. Other cities that fund eviction defense include San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are also cities where rents are high and affordable housing is scarce.
Revise the due-process procedures for tenants facing evictions. Eviction procedures can be improved to make the process fairer for those who have low levels of literacy or English-language proficiency or for those facing domestic-abuse or mental-health issues.
Expand the availability of emergency rent assistance. Given that many tenants are evicted for relatively small amounts of unpaid rent, expanding the availability of rent assistance would be an effective way to help tenants remain in their homes.
“Facing Eviction Alone” includes policy recommendations, and is available online.
Please contact Colorado Center on Law and Policy or Colorado Coalition for the Homeless for more information about the study.