Evictions loom as next challenge in Roaring Fork Valley’s economic crisis

A nonprofit organization is trying to establish a special fund to prevent an anticipated surge in evictions of renters from Aspen to Parachute this fall.

The Mountain Voices Project has set up the Regional Landlord-Tenant Recovery Fund and is hoping for cash infusions from the governments of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties along with contributions from nonprofits such as the Aspen Community Fund and private donors.

“How can we all share in the burden to keep this community intact?” Mountain Voices Project representative Jon Fox-Rubin asked in a recent presentation to the Eagle County Commissioners.

Many nonprofit groups in the human services field have focused during the COVID-19 economic crisis on providing direct cash aid to families and individuals in need. Evictions haven’t been part of the crisis, but that could change.

Colorado state government had a moratorium in place on residential evictions but it expired in June.

Landlords must wait 30 days but then can file legal action to boot renters who are delinquent on payments. There is currently no federal or Colorado legislation to prevent evictions. The issue has been regarded as the ticking time bomb of the COVID-19 crisis because so many people are unemployed or under-employed.

In addition, U.S. Congress has been unable to compromise on a new aid package, so $600 per week in supplemental unemployment funds has dried up.

Officials with Mountain Voices Project presented unemployment data from the state that showed a bleak picture in June, the latest full month of statistics available. Although some parts of the Roaring Fork Valley economy recovered well during the summer, unemployment remains way above average.

The unemployment rate was 16% in Pitkin County in June compared with only 3.2% in June 2019. There were 1,966 county residents unemployed, according to the state.

In Eagle County, there were 5,979 people unemployed in June, a rate of 15.7% compared with 2.4% in June 2019.

In Garfield County, the unemployment rate in June was 9.7% with 3,207 out of work. The rate was 2.7% a year before.

The Colorado Workforce Center has estimated that “42 percent of lost jobs in Pitkin County are not coming back,” Mountain Voices Project said in its presentation.

Fox-Rubin said the big unknown is how much “dislocation” of residents will occur this fall — when the number of jobs typically decreases anyway because of the seasonal economy.

Mountain Voices Project was founded in 2019 after it was incubated by the Carbondale-based Manaus organization. Mountain Voices’ mission is to achieve broad-based community organizing between Aspen and Parachute.

The proposed Landlord-Tenant Housing Recovery Fund depends on the willingness of some landlords to work to keep tenants rather than evict them. The model utilizes a “shared burden model” with the tenant paying at least one-third of the owed amount, one-third coming from the Recovery Fund and up to one-third donated by the landlord.

The landlord or tenant could request access to the fund. A vetting agency that works with regional residents facing hardships would check eligibility. The nonprofits could also refer people to the program. If approved, funds would be released to the landlord in return for keeping the tenant in place.

Mountain Voices Project requested $250,000 overall from Pitkin County with an initial contribution of $50,000.

A total of $150,000 was sought from Eagle County with an initial contribution of $30,000. The Eagle County commissioners approved the $30,000 on Monday.

The Pitkin County commissioners will likely consider the request next week, Commissioner George Newman said.

“The board is supportive of the idea, the partnership,” he said.

He wants officials with Mountain Voices Project to tailor a system where Pitkin County can gauge if its funds are helping Pitkin County residents.

Another $500,000 was requested from the Garfield County commissioners. They denied the request but said they would reconsider if Pitkin County participates and there is support from nonprofits working in Garfield County on housing issues.