Since 2001, renters have become more and more financially squeezed. According to an analysis of data by Redfin, the number of people spending 30 percent of income on rent increased by 35 percent between 2001 and 2015 – from 14.8 million to 20.3 million. This rise in the number of “cost-burdened” renters was partially due to the fact that, though rents spiked by 66 percent in that period, household incomes only increased by 35 percent. Of course, this state of affairs has led to a rise in evictions. In 2015, 2.7 million people were given eviction notices by their landlords.
Denver is but one city to have suffered the effects of that statistic. According to research conducted by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP), just last year, landlords attempted to evict 8,000 tenants in the city and successfully evicted 6,000 renters. For the last three years, the primary reason for eviction has been overdue rent. In 2015, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA), which runs 12,000 public housing units, attempted to evict at least one tenant for a balance of $4. That same year the median balance for allegedly unpaid rent was only $261. According to the CCLP report, landlords seeking eviction must pay $217 in processing fees – meaning, in 2015, the DHA was, in many cases, only after $44.
It should be noted that the public housing sectors of Denver tend to also be the parts of the city with higher numbers of people of color. Thus, the DHA evictions have disproportionately affected that demographic.
Lack of Representation
As observed by the study, tenants facing eviction could fare better with legal representation. Between 2014 and 2016, those living in private housing were able to avoid eviction 94 percent of the time when they hired an attorney. Conversely, private renters lacking legal representation were evicted 68 percent of the time. As for those living in public housing: the situation was slightly different. Renters with legal representation avoided eviction 80 percent of the time.
State Sponsored Program
Jack Regenbogen, an attorney who wrote the report, expressed a desire for the city to implement programs like the one in New York where low-income tenants are given access to legal representation in cases of eviction – it is currently the only state with such a program. “We knew it wasn’t a fair playing field, but we really weren’t sure just how unequal it was (until now),” he told the Denver Post.
Though the recently passed New York State statute only applies to those earning less than twice the federal poverty line, a New York City Bar Association study found that 82 percent of eviction cases would be eligible for the program. Such a program could be very beneficial for a city like Denver where 80 percent of 93,000 eviction cases filed between 2001 and 2015 resulted in the tenants vacating the property.
Means to an End
Cathy Alderman, the vice president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, hopes to use the recent CCLP report to convince legislators to instate a program like the one in New York. “We know that evictions can often lead to homelessness, especially in areas where rental rates are increasing so significantly,” she told the Denver Post. “We were looking for ways to help keep people in their homes when the terms of eviction aren’t severe, like criminal activity.”
It’s important to recall the words of Randy Dillard who, while living in the Bronx with his five children, received eviction papers one day. He told Mother Jones, “That’s when my nightmare began. When I first got the papers I didn’t understand them, I didn’t know how to read them. I became frightened.” Dillard was able to get legal help and he ultimately won his case. Sadly, many others throughout the country are forced out of their homes, lacking the legal representation necessary to prevent an unjust eviction.