Renters at risk of eviction can now seek legal help
Struggling renters who face eviction in Denver can now receive help from a pilot legal defense program that launched
Wednesday with money provided
by the City Council.
Several council members announced the program in January after pooling money that mostly came from taxpayer funds in their leftover office budgets. The fund for the pilot has grown to $131,500, drawing budgetary or personal donations from all 13 members.
To qualify for the Denver Eviction Legal Defense Pilot program, a tenant must be a city resident with a household income below 200 percent of the poverty line. For an individual, the income limit is $24,120 a year, and for a family of four it’s $49,200.
Colorado Legal Services, which long has aided tenants in public and subsidized housing, joined as a partner to run the program. During the pilot, a staff attorney and paralegal, along with pro bono help from other lawyers, are projected to help 200 people with services ranging from quick legal advice to full representation in eviction cases.
Organizers looked to New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and other cities for guidance in forming
Councilman Paul Kashmann said he and his colleagues, along with housing advocates, see the program as a way to help reduce the risk that people facing eviction will become homeless. Jon Asher, the executive director of Colorado Legal Services, cited a recent example in which a CLS attorney helped win a reprieve from eviction for a disabled woman — who still has to move out but now has more time.
“Those additional 90 days to move could be the difference between her finding an affordable home and living on the streets,” Asher said during a news conference Wednesday in the City and County Building.
The money, along with other grant support obtained by Asher’s nonprofit, is expected to last six to nine months. After that, council members pledged to work with other city officials to create a permanent program.
“With the launch of this pilot, our city moves closer to fulfilling its promise of justice for all,” said Jack Regenbogen, an attorney and policy advocate at the Colo- rado Center on Law and Policy. He cited research last year that found that nearly 90 percent of landlords had lawyers in local eviction cases that were reviewed.
Just 1 percent of tenants had legal representation.
“This new resource,” Regenbogen said, “is urgently needed (to protect tenants’ rights). In the few instances when renters had legal counsel, they almost always prevailed and were able to remain in their home.”
Potential participants can apply for legal help on the Colorado Legal Services website or by calling 303837-1313. They also can stop by Room 483 in the City and County Building between 8 a.m. and noon on weekdays, after checking in with the courtroom clerk. Or they can visit the CLS office, 1905 Sherman St., Suite 400, on weekdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m.
The legal defense program doesn’t draw from Denver’s $15 million-a-year local affordable housing initiative, which Mayor Michael Hancock is seeking to expand, in part by boosting the city’s special retail marijuana tax. City leaders recently approved a $1 million renewal of a separate city program that provides atrisk renters with temporary assistance in making rent or utility payments.