From the Field: Boulder Establishes Eviction Prevention Program through Ballot Initiative

Residents of Boulder, Colorado, established an Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Service (EPRAS) program – implemented in January 2021 – as a result of an ordinance passed in November 2020. The ordinance, “Ordinance 8412: Legal Representation Provided in Cases of Eviction,” was born out of the No Eviction Without Representation ballot initiative, which sought to fund eviction prevention efforts. EPRAS is funded through an annual $75 excise tax for landlords on any of their properties operated on long-term rental licenses. Because taxes for 2021 are still being filed, the funds raised by the program in 2021 have not yet been determined. But Boulder officials expect the tax to have raised roughly $1.9 million over the course of the program’s first year.

The EPRAS program is operated by the Community Mediation and Resolution Center in Boulder, which partners with community organizations to connect tenants and landlords to resources. The program also contracted with Bridge to Justice, a local non-profit legal services agency, to provide support for the program. Bridge to Justice provided the EPRAS program with six attorneys, though more are necessary to serve the needs of tenants in Boulder.

Over the course of its first year, EPRAS distributed $168,536 to 82 households and prevented 63% of cases at eviction court, according to a report released by the City of Boulder. Before the pandemic, city data indicated that around 1,000 evictions were filed per year. With the help of state and federal protections, eviction filings fell to 392 in 2020 and 557 in 2021. However, Boulder has reported a steady increase in eviction filings, and officials believe that filings are now likely to match the level of evictions reported pre-pandemic. It is hoped that EPRAS will reach tenants before eviction judgments and connect them to necessary resources before eviction hearings take place.

EPRAS staff expect to strengthen the program in the coming year by partnering with the Housing Solutions Lab at the New York University Furman Center for help with data collection. The program will launch a new intake form to gather information from tenants and provide better data on outcomes of interactions with the program. EPRAS also plans to publish a dashboard on evictions on Boulder’s website.

During the first year of its operation, EPRAS received some criticism. Some worried that the program would raise rental prices in Boulder if landlords passed on the new tax fees to tenants through legal proceedings. However, Colorado law states that landlords are not able to pass legal expenses on to tenants unless this is explicitly permitted by the lease signed by the tenant.

Like Boulder, other municipalities in Colorado also took major strides towards enacting stronger tenant protections and increasing housing stock during the 2021 local elections (See Memo, 11/15/2021). In February 2022, the State of Colorado adapted the policy language in its Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to reflect a federal statute stating that the second round of ERA funding could be used to address financial hardships not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This change in language will be helpful to Boulder tenants, especially those impacted by the Marshall Fire, which destroyed 1,000 homes in December 2021.

Through such initiatives and other tenant protections implemented at the local and state levels, Colorado expects to increase access to affordable housing in the state. According to Dave Heisterkamp, a Colorado attorney, “these new laws at both the state and local levels are the most significant tenant protections to be implemented in my thirty years of representing public housing agencies and processing evictions all around the state. There are so many more options to get landlord/tenant issues, non-payment or otherwise, resolved when the tenant has access to legal representation – beginning with the improved communication between the parties. Many things that we used to work out in front of a judge are now taken care of out-of-court and even before a formal case is filed.” 

NLIHC is working to identify tenant protections passed after January 2021 to add to our Tenant Protections Database. If you are aware of any tenant protections passed after January 2021 that are not already in the database, please contact NLIHC’s ERASE Project Coordinator Jade Vasquez at [email protected] or the ERASE team at [email protected].

For more information about the “No Eviction Without Representation” ballot initiative or EPRAS, contact Dave Heisterkamp, an attorney with Wagenlander & Heisterkamp, LLC, at: [email protected].