Denver Eviction Defense Fund Campaign Skipping 2021 Election

Denver residents will soon get more support during eviction proceedings.
Denver residents will soon get more support during eviction proceedings. Patricia Calhoun
Denver's November ballot won't include an initiative guaranteeing a universal right to eviction legal defense for residents. But the idea isn't dead; it's just delayed.

"Given we submitted our paperwork in late March, getting enough signatures in 100 days without an army of paid canvassers was always going to be tight. We determined based on our internal signature count we needed more time and are now aiming for the 2022 ballot," says Lucas Dan, secretary of the No Eviction Without Representation Denver campaign.

The deadline to submit 9,184 valid signatures in order to get on the November 2021 ballot was July 6. The campaign now has until September 20 to submit signatures for the 2022 ballot.

And the opposition is ready. "This initiative would add approximately $12 million to the cost of Denver rental housing. That cost will be paid by residents who already are working hard to get by. This initiative helps no one except the lawyers who would be paid more money than their services are worth," says Drew Hamrick, general counsel and senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver and the Colorado Apartment Association.

Even though No Eviction Without Representation Denver has pushed back its timeline, some Denver residents will soon get access to legal defense: In June, Denver City Council approved a measure that guarantees an eviction legal defense for renters making 80 percent or less of the area median income. That program takes effect in September.

"This is a critical moment for renters everywhere who have yet to find stable footing after a year of compounding unpaid rent debt due to COVID19," says Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer. The two councilwomen have requested that federal emergency relief money be used over the next few years to fund the eviction legal defense program.

The No Eviction Without Representation Denver initiative seeks to go further than the program set up by Denver City Council. "NEWR opposes means testing for Right to Counsel because we know adding qualifiers to a public program means barriers to every person accessing the program," the campaign says, noting that this stipulation could be especially exclusionary for undocumented tenants. NEWR Denver has also expressed concerns about the lack of a specific, longterm funding source for the council program.

NEWR Denver proposes funding its program through a $75 per rental unit tax to be paid by landlords, which the campaign estimates could generate up to $12 million in its first year. The $75 tax concept was modeled after a similar initiative passed by Boulder voters in November 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had an eviction moratorium in place for tenants who can exhibit that they've experienced a COVID-related financial hardship, are trying to but cannot afford to pay rent, and have exhausted other options for obtaining relief. That moratorium is set to run out on July 31, however.

Campaigns for two other initiatives — titled "Waste No More" and "Polluters Must Pay" — also failed to submit signatures by the July 6 deadline.

But six other campaigns did. Of those, two have already made the ballot: a measure to repeal recent changes to the group living aspects of the Denver Zoning Code and a proposal that would prevent development on the Park Hill Golf Course.

Campaigns for four other proposals —another initiative geared to development of the Park Hill Golf Course, a sales tax decrease, an initiative focused on homeless encampments and enforcement, and a marijuana sales tax increase to fund pandemic research — are still waiting for the Denver Elections Division to determine whether they collected enough valid signatures to make the ballot.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.