Giving Thought: Sharing the pain to avoid mass evictions is key for valley residents, landlords |

Giving Thought: Sharing the pain to avoid mass evictions is key for valley residents, landlords

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

Ever heard the idea that shared pain builds social cohesion?

Think of a team of athletes, who come to respect and care for one another after repeated grueling workouts. Or a unit of soldiers who, after the rigors of boot camp, stand together as a fighting force. It’s the idea that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Or, as psychologist Brock Bastian has said, “Pain, it seems, has the capacity to act as social glue.”

This is applicable also to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re all in this together, regardless of how COVID-19 has affected us personally, and we won’t emerge from the crisis safely until we agree on a path forward. We don’t have to march in perfect lockstep, but the broad outlines of the solution should be apparent to us all.

Looming on the horizon now, alongside the pandemic itself, is the possibility of mass evictions. Back in the spring, when the virus was new, state and federal officials temporarily prohibited evictions. They knew the pandemic would leave many people unemployed or under-employed, and they wanted to prevent the social dislocation that evictions could create.

Those moratoriums and protections recently expired, opening the door for landlords to evict tenants who had fallen behind. But earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recognizing that many evicted renters would end up in homeless shelters and other crowded living situations, imposed a national moratorium on evictions — at least evictions that could worsen the public health crisis.

The moratorium, which will last until Dec. 31, surprised nonprofit leaders and activists around Colorado, who were busily preparing ways to help landlords and tenants resolve their differences amicably. In the Roaring Fork Valley, the Mountain Voices Project (MVP), a coalition of 29 religious, nonprofit and educational organizations, sees the CDC action as an opportunity to leverage the benefits of their Landlord-Tenant Recovery Fund.

“This is the time to utilize resources to get tenants and landlords caught up, so they aren’t even further behind when the eviction ban is lifted,” said Jennifer Wherry of Alpine Legal Services. “In addition, since tenants are required to make best efforts to pay rent, let’s use this time wisely and spread the word about resources.”

The Recovery Fund is a creative solution involving government and private players to avoid evictions, and it’s based on the notion of shared pain. The fund is still taking shape, but here is how it is intended to work.

If tenants have fallen behind on rent, they could join with their landlord and apply to the fund for financial help. If the tenant is willing to pick up a third of the money owed, and the landlord would forgive a third, then the fund would pay the final third. So, if landlord and tenant are willing to share equally in the financial pain, then they’ll settle the matter.

“This seemed like a good way to spread the public-private dollars further and get landlords and tenants together on the problem,” said Patrick Morrisy of MVP.

The Aspen-to-Parachute region has not seen a wave of eviction proceedings yet, but unemployment rates remain high in resort areas, with Pitkin and Eagle counties at 9.4%. Garfield County is currently in better shape at 6.2%.

The 2020 Rescue Fund at Aspen Community Foundation has contributed $20,000 to the Recovery Fund and may give up to $100,000 as need dictates. Mountain Voices representatives are also speaking to local governments. Eagle County has committed $30,000 of a possible $150,000. Pitkin and Garfield counties are still considering whether to participate and how.

Jon Fox-Rubin, another MVP member, says the CDC moratorium may appear like a lifesaver for tenants, but it offers no financial help.

“Kicking the can down the road another four months will put additional pressure on both landlords and tenants,” he said. “Those that can’t pay will fall further behind and landlords will be more, not less, likely to evict when the moratorium ends.”

By contrast, the Landlord-Tenant Recovery Fund represents a potential source of actual financial relief for both landlords and tenants in the remaining months of 2020. This kind of shared response to a collective problem illustrates what caring communities do in a crisis.

“We might not be the perfect fit for everyone,” said Lindsay Lofaro, executive director of the Buddy Program and an MVP member. “If nothing else, we’re helping to build landlord-tenant relationships.”

Landlord-tenant pairs interested in mediation can call Alpine Legal Services’ hotline: 970-230-3935 between 9 a.m. and noon, or 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. A trained, neutral party will help facilitate an agreement.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.