Things were looking bleak in early November when Longmont resident Allan Bullington heard about Colorado Housing Connects and gave the helpline a call.
Even before COVID-19 hit, the 73-year-old Bullington had been relying on paychecks from part-time work as a mechanic to survive; combined with his monthly Social Security and disability checks, it was barely enough to cover his rent. And after the pandemic cost him the majority of his jobs, Bullington joined the thousands of Coloradans in need of rental assistance.
“I fell behind by April or May, and I’ve been paying on it what I could, just trying to catch up,” Bullington says. “I caught up for a few months, and then I’ve been behind for a few months here. I’m hoping I’ll get the help I need.”
Colorado Housing Connects, the place he turned to, had recently gotten some help of its own from the Housing Counseling Assistance Program, which has been using grant money from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to boost the helpline founded by the nonprofit Brothers Redevelopment back in 2014. While the helpline already offered some rental relief, with the boost from HCAP it's been able to expand the number of partnerships that can provide assistance. It’s also added a new category of partners: legal agencies, which can help those with legal concerns related to eviction or foreclosure.
And the helpline has also been able to double its staff and reactivate the foreclosure prevention network, a state partnership that helped more than 100,000 people during the Great Recession and preceded the current helpline.
“When we first learned of the shutdowns in March, we saw, to the day, a spike in our call volume,” says Patrick Noonan, who manages the Colorado Housing Connects helpline. There were "folks looking for help with eviction, foreclosure, and we saw people that maybe hadn’t missed a paycheck yet but were concerned about their stability in the long run.”
Since then, the nonprofit has experienced a more than a 50 percent increase in calls, by Noonan’s estimate. Before the pandemic, an average of 2,000 calls came in each month; today the monthly average falls between 3,000 and 3,500, he says.
"The helpline is available for anybody who has a housing question, especially those with foreclosure or eviction concerns," Noonan explains. "We want folks to reach out sooner rather than later, for them to be proactive in trying to address their housing situation."
There are big deadlines coming up, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put an eviction moratorium in place through December 31, which applies to those who have been financially impacted by the pandemic, make under $99,000 a year and can show they are making their best effort to pay their rent.
On October 21, Governor Jared Polis issued his own declaration, building on the protections of that moratorium. The order was extended on November 19 and will last thirty days — though that extension can be extended, too.
The state funding for HCAP also expires in December, according to Alison George, director of the Colorado Division of Housing, but that timeline could be extended if more funds are made available when the Colorado Legislature meets in a special session to address coronavirus relief, which starts November 30.
Even if HCAP funding is not extended, Colorado Housing Connects “was a resource for anyone with a housing question prior to the pandemic, and we will be a resource for anyone with a housing question after the pandemic,” Noonan promises.
While Bullington is protected through the end of the year by the eviction moratorium, a Colorado Housing Connects team member is now working to connect him with financial assistance. “I know there’s a lot of people having a hard time with this right now, and if they can get to an agency like Brothers, that would be the greatest thing,” Bullington says. “They’ve really been great working with me.”
To reach the helpline, call 1-844-926-6632 or visit coloradohousingconnects.org.