Denver earmarks federal COVID-19 relief funds for rent, utility and mortgage assistance programs

And the city is dropping requirements that aid recipients during the pandemic pay a portion of their housing costs.

The Denver Democratic Socialists of America stage tents in front of the Capitol to protest rent and evictions as the economy continues to struggle under the pandemic. July 1, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver Democratic Socialists of America stage tents in front of the Capitol to protest rent and evictions as the economy continues to struggle under the pandemic. July 1, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver plans to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to more than triple rent, utility and mortgage assistance, trying to keep people housed as an eviction moratorium ends.

City Council on Monday approved adding $5 million to a housing assistance fund that started the year with a budget of $2 million.

Nonprofits that have been longtime partners in the program will process applications for the additional funds. The Northeast Denver Housing Center and Brothers Redevelopment Inc. each will administer $2 million in rental assistance. The Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation will administer $1 million in mortgage assistance.

“We anticipate it’s going to go pretty quickly,” said Jeff Martinez, who is president of Brothers.

Britta Fisher, who heads Denver’s housing department, said the assistance programs helped 996 households last year and that as of May this year already 704 households have been helped. She said demand was up sharply.

“That clearly shows that households, including families, are feeling the stress of this economic crisis and health crisis,” Fisher said.

In the past, grants paid up to 80 percent of the rental assistance. In the change approved by City Council Monday, requirements that recipients pay a portion of their housing costs were dropped, and now 100 percent of the rent will be covered. The city says the 100 percent coverage will go into effect in a few weeks, once the contract is finalized.

Derek Woodbury, spokesman for the housing department, said the change “was made due to the impacts of COVID-19 on residents’ incomes and greater challenges in residents having the funds to pay a portion of the amount due.”

“Additionally, this will allow the program to more quickly get funds to residents who need rental and utility assistance,” he said.

Abby Bugas, who managed the rental assistance program for Brothers, said time will be saved determining how much an applicant can pay.

Bugas added that the application process is online, which can be a challenge for people without access to technology. Callers to the city’s 311 line can be connected to a Brothers navigator who can help them determine if they are eligible. If they are, they will be provided with options for obtaining an application.”

Also on Monday, City Council approved an agreement for $2 million in federal Housing and Urban Development COVID-19 relief funds to be used for shelter operations and to pay security deposits and rent payments to get people who have experienced homelessness into apartments, and other support related to the pandemic for people experiencing homelessness.

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