Renters at risk of evic­tion can now seek le­gal help

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jon Mur­ray

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

the pro­gram.

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.

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