After a pandemic moratorium on evictions led to a brief drop in filings, activity in Boulder County’s eviction courts is rising yet again — to levels not seen in years.
Property owners sought to evict more tenants last month than they had since early 2020, leaving these renters at risk of losing their housing and putting strain on the City of Boulder’s rental assistance program.
In February 2023, the two courts in Boulder County — Boulder County Justice Center and the Longmont Safety and Justice Center — recorded 153 eviction case filings, the most since February 2020, according to state data. Under state law, details of these cases are often suppressed, making it difficult to track evictions in the City of Boulder and other towns and cities.
The uptick comes one month after Boulder County stopped accepting new applicants for its emergency rental assistance program. The program, funded by a federal pandemic-era stimulus package, helped prevent eviction proceedings by giving money to landlords and tenants for rent.
The program’s end means even less financial help will be available to struggling renters. Meanwhile, inflation is driving up the cost of food, gas, childcare and other necessities, compounding the region’s high housing costs.
“It’s pretty dire out there,” Julie Van Domelen, the executive director of Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance for basic needs, told Boulder Reporting Lab. “We’re seeing historic levels of need right now.”
The county’s per capita eviction rate for February was still below the State of Colorado’s, in part thanks to the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Boulder County received $22.2 million under the pandemic stimulus program, and has dispersed $16.8 million rental assistance to landlords and renters. Some remaining money is still being distributed. The rest was spent on administrative costs or sent back to the U.S. Treasury Department because it was not distributed fast enough, the county said.
“Funding for emergency rental assistance is once again very limited across our Boulder County communities,” Jim Williams, a spokesman for Boulder County Housing and Human Services, wrote in an email to Boulder Reporting Lab. “The federal assistance provided a significant boost to local resources.”
The county has no clear plan for how to fill the gap yet. “We and many partner organizations will continue to work together to identify potential additional funding sources and services that can help struggling households maintain their housing,” Williams added.
With less rental assistance money from the county, the City of Boulder’s rental assistance program — the Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services Program, or EPRAS — is facing high demand. The city has spent about $1.1 million since the program launched in 2021, mostly to help property owners settle rent debt.
The program also provides legal support for tenants facing eviction. It is paid for through a $75 tax on rental licenses. The tax is expected to generate just $1.4 million in 2023, according to the city.
To make the money go further and to more people, the city recently cut the amount of rental assistance it provides to each household to $3,000, from $4,000. But it is spending more overall.
Jay Allen, a program coordinator with the City of Boulder who helps oversee the EPRAS program, said that in January, the city doubled its amount of monthly rental assistance due to demand.
“We are starting to evaluate if this is sustainable,” Allen told Boulder Reporting Lab. “If we were to keep funding it at that level, the funding wouldn’t last.”
‘Homelessness being driven by evictions’
Unpaid rent is the primary reason property owners seek to evict tenants.
The City of Boulder’s median rent in February increased 10% over the same month last year, according to Zillow. According to the U.S. Census, in the last decade, the median cost of rent in the city has increased more than the median income of its renters.
Van Domelen, of EFAA, said residents the organization serves spend up to 70% of their incomes on rent, leaving little money for anything else. (Spending more than 30% of your income on housing, including utilities, makes you “cost burdened.”)
Adding to the pressure, the federal boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, expired this month. Some 25,000 Boulder County residents are enrolled in the program.
Some people have more than a year’s worth of unpaid rent, resulting in too much debt for rental assistance programs to cure, Van Domelen said. Debt makes an eviction all the more likely.
“Once you have an eviction on your record, it’s extremely difficult to find housing,” Van Domelen said. “We’re finding more and more actual homelessness being driven by evictions.”