Denver mayor should increase the city’s rental assistance budget by $17.5 million

This year, Denver will see 12,000 eviction filings, the largest number in our city’s history. Since 2000, housing prices have skyrocketed, and displacement and homelessness have spiraled out of control.

Now, with eviction filings and first-time homelessness at all-time highs, we’ve reached a tipping point. Unless we tackle eviction and displacement while simultaneously addressing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness, we will continue to see the number of people without a home increase.

As a former caseworker and courthouse tenant advocate, we know working people are doing everything they can to keep their homes. The city must also do everything it can; urgent services to unhoused people must be paired with a concerted effort to slow the flow of Denverites into homelessness.

Increasing rental assistance directly supports the mayor’s broader plan, and ensures that progress is lasting, particularly while more affordable housing is built.

Twelve City Council members voted to increase rental assistance by $17.5 million dollars because it’s clear that if the city wants to prevent more homelessness and displacement, we must significantly fund rental assistance programs that stabilize families in their homes.

We’ve spent our careers working to help Denver families get back on their feet and thrive, but for most Denverites, paying rent has only become more challenging. Denver has the second-highest inflation rate nationally, and some of the highest average rents; its rent inflation has outstripped income gains by a higher margin than any other major U.S. city since 2009. Gas prices continue to soar, thousands of Denver families have taken significant hits this year with cuts to Medicaid and SNAP, and costs across the city have spiked.

Unsurprisingly, more than half of Colorado households surveyed by the Colorado Health Foundation reported anxiety about losing their housing because of increasing rents; communities of color and tenants have more housing and economic stress than the rest of the state.

This anxiety is real, especially when one emergency expense — an unexpected tow, flat tire, or sick kid — can leave so many households unable to make rent, leading to eviction, displacement, homelessness, and debt. Research shows nearly 70% of Coloradans who faced eviction filings pre-pandemic were ultimately ordered to leave their homes.

Denverites need relief now. Council proposed using funds from the city’s General Fund Reserves. The mayor has currently budgeted $12.6 million for rental assistance, which will only address 18% to 25% of all the evictions estimated to happen in 2024. If the mayor adds $17.5 million (1% of the overall city budget) for a total of $30.1 million allocated to rental assistance, the city can meaningfully address the majority of the evictions that will occur next year.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. An eviction’s psychological, health, education, and job impacts are devastating. People who have been evicted are more likely to experience job loss, suffer serious negative health outcomes, and struggle in school.

New data indicates that children under 5 are most at risk of eviction. Families with children are more likely to be evicted than other types of renters; the risk of eviction is most acute for Black children and families. If we do nothing, thousands of children in Denver will lose their homes.

A $17.5 million increase in the mayor’s budget for rental assistance can dramatically reduce first-time homelessness, prevent displacement, and save the city hundreds of millions of dollars. Research shows it’s more costly to provide services and resources after someone experiences homelessness than prior to displacement.  More importantly, it would help tens of thousands of Denver households avoid the intergenerational poverty and trauma associated with eviction.

Denverites are suffering. Our social service providers are running out of resources to get people the assistance they need. The math is simple: if we want our communities to thrive and our children to be safe, the city needs to make a historic investment in rental assistance to keep Denver families in their homes.

Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is a newly elected member of the Denver City Council and Elina Rodriguez is the manager of policy, advocacy, and organizing for the Community Economic Defense Project a Denver-based program that provides rental assistance, legal assistance/representation, and resource navigation for clients facing eviction, housing insecurity, and other types of economic hardship.

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