Unhoused: Episode 2 – The Beginning: Evictions

Daze Little Fox, a renter whose life was upended by the pandemic. The sound engineer found himself suddenly out of work. “What venues are booking? you know, none of them.”

Unhoused a 6-part podcast/radio series produced by the Boulder Weekly and KGNU. Read more about the series in the Boulder Weekly.

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Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Colorado was facing an eviction crisis. “You don’t have to be an economist to know that a lot of people in this state don’t have savings and when you take away their income and there are no benefits, and they’re renters, their ability to stay housed evaporates really quickly,” says Zach Neumann a practicing lawyer and public policy lecturer at CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs. He founded the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Fund with a handful of other lawyers. Since March, they’ve helped more than 1,000 people across the state with legal information and representation. According to the Defense Fund, more than 400,000 Coloradans remain at risk of eviction. One report states this crisis will impact communities of color, undocumented residents and low-income families most. Neumann says they’ve already seen how the pandemic-caused unemployment is disproportionately affecting more people who rent than people who own homes.

In the spring, eviction moratoriums, or temporary mandates that prevented landlords from evicting tenants, were put in place because of the pandemic, and Neumann was relieved—these measures, while not a perfect solution to keeping people housed, at least bought those on the brink of losing their homes some time.

In Colorado, unemployment jumped from 2.5% in February to well over 10% in May and it’s hovered there ever since. Rental assistance quickly became the number-one request from residents in Boulder County and as uncertainty swirled around the country, the eviction moratorium was the only thing keeping a lot of people housed. The federal and state moratoriums on evictions are now set to expire by the end of 2020.

In the absence of more federal or state protections and funding, much of what’s been keeping people housed in Boulder has come from community resource organizations—like the Emergency Family Assistance Association, or what folks call EFAA, and the Community Foundation Boulder County—both already in touch with these vulnerable communities, that were quickest to bring rental, utilities and food assistance to thousands of people across Boulder County.

But evictions have been an issue in Boulder long before the pandemic.

Meagan and Ruy Arango, housing justice activists, “We believe that eviction is violence both to individuals and to communities.”

Ruy Arango and his wife Meagan, both housing justice advocates in Boulder, have been working around eviction prevention to try to get renters more rights in the legal system.

“We believe that eviction is violence both to individuals and to communities. First and foremost, eviction causes homelessness directly.”

In 2019 they began organizing a citizens initiative campaign, which is a way to get a measure placed on the ballot for the community to vote on during the November elections. Their measure which was approved by voters is called No Eviction Without Representation and it proposes the City of Boulder provide free legal representation to individuals and families who are called to eviction court. The idea is to guarantee legal representation in civil cases—just like it’s already guaranteed in criminal cases.

They’re hopeful NEWR will significantly reduce the number of evictions in Boulder, as similar programs have done in other cities. The Boulder program goes even further however says Ruy Arango.

“We are also working with city officials to expand the scope of the program, to include things like rental assistance, and that will make NEWR the most comprehensive and most aggressive anti0eviction program in the country we think, and probably the best one.”

Unhoused is a 6-part radio series and podcast produced by the Boulder Weekly and KGNU. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, communities already struggling to provide services to the unhoused are seeking to end an enduring problem with new solutions: preventing evictions and exploring opportunities for safe lots, urban campgrounds and tiny homes in addition to the national Housing First strategy. Whether you live in Boulder or not, join host Emma Athena as she analyzes how COVID-19 has changed the conversation around homelessness solutions.

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