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Denver mayor, city council members at odds over emergency rental assistance

eviction notice
Posted at 5:53 PM, Oct 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-30 21:27:38-04

Editor's note: Denver City Council approved the amendment during Monday's meeting. You can read our original story below.

DENVER — As evictions in the city skyrocket, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and some city council members find themselves at odds over how much the city should spend to keep people in their homes.

The mayor wants to spend $15.6 million on emergency rental assistance next year. His office calls it “a significant expansion” of what the city normally spends, despite a drop in federal funding. But Denver City Councilwoman Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez said that’s not enough.

"If we are going to work to get people off the streets and into shelters, then we need to make sure we're stopping people from entering that situation to begin with,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez.

Gonzales-Gutierrez and four of her colleagues introduced an amendment that would add $14.7 million to next year’s budget, bringing the rental assistance total to $30 million.

“That number comes straight from advocates,” said Denver City Councilwoman Sarah Parady, who co-sponsored the amendment. “It's calculated based off the expected level of eviction filings that we will see in 2024.”

But it’s the eviction filings this year that caught the councilmembers' attention.

According to data from Denver County Courts, there have been more than 9,200 eviction filings as of September 30. Updated numbers are expected to be released this week.

If the trend continues, Denver could set a new record for eviction filings this year.

“Evictions in Denver are at a level that I don't think I've ever seen before. It's a crisis,” said Parady.

The councilmembers said Denver’s Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance (TRUA) program ran out of money after providing $22 million in assistance this year. The extra money the councilmembers want to add to next year’s budget would come from the city’s reserves.

Johnston rejected most of the council's $81 million in budget requests. In a letter to the council earlier this month, the mayor said he wanted to be careful not to take too much from the reserves, which are meant for emergencies.

“As we considered [your] funding proposals… we were extremely careful not to reduce the city’s reserves below the required 15% threshold to ensure Denver is prepared for whatever challenges may come in 2024,” Johnston wrote.

Johnston also said ongoing challenges like the migrant crisis could place significant strain on next year’s budget.

In a statement to Denver7 Monday, the mayor’s office said Johnston believes rental assistance funding “is not only the moral, humanitarian thing to do, but it's the right financial thing to do. That's why we have proposed a significant expansion of city funding for rental assistance despite a massive drop off in federal funding for this priority.”

The statement went on to say, “Mayor Johnston knows that we have a solemn obligation to deliver a balanced budget that meets this urgent need, as well as other critical priorities and city services like creating more affordable housing, ensuring Denverites don't have to pay more for trash pick up, and ensuring our streets are safe.”

Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann, who also co-sponsored the amendment, said he understands the environment is challenging. He said the city is facing more crises than he’s ever seen, but keeping people in their homes should be a higher priority.

“The other night, it was eight degrees outside. We've got people living outside. The last thing we want to do is have more people living outside. Providing this rental assistance will help keep good people in their homes,” said Kashmann.

Councilman Darrell Watson also offered an amendment that would provide for an additional $5 million in rental assistance funding. Parady said Watson’s amendment provides too little.

According to Parady, the proposed $30 million for rental assistance would only address 50% of the need next year.

“$30 million would prevent about half of the nonpayment rent evictions in Denver in 2024,” Parady said.

The council must approve next year’s budget by Nov. 13.

It’s unclear how receptive the mayor will be to the councilmembers' amendment, given he only agreed to add $3 million to their request for increased funding earlier this month. The councilmembers said they have been in touch with Johnston's office to discuss the importance of rental assistance.

If the mayor vetoes the amendment, councilmembers said they are confident they will have enough votes to override the veto, which is rare.

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