A hotline that helps Coloradans with housing problems doubles its staff to keep up with the pandemic

Calls to a Denver-based hotline for Coloradans who need rental assistance spiked during the pandemic. Now, thanks to a state grant of nearly $1 million, it has more staff and new partners
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Jeff Martinez, president of Brothers Redevelopment Inc., poses for a portrait outside of his housing project in Aurora, July 10, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A Denver-based hotline for Coloradans who need rental assistance and other housing help has doubled its staff and is working with new partners to meet needs created by the pandemic.

"Our call volume spiked through the roof in March," said Patrick Noonan, who manages the Colorado Housing Connects hotline run by the nonprofit Brothers Redevelopment. The hotline serving the state can be reached at 844-926-6632.

The Colorado state housing division turned to Brothers Redevelopment to start what became Colorado Housing Connects in 2006 in response to what was then a growing foreclosure crisis. The program was expanded to address rental assistance and other housing issues in 2014.

As the pandemic hit, Noonan said daily calls to Colorado Housing Connects doubled to about 200 in March. While the pace has slowed somewhat, the hotline has been averaging 3,000 calls a month recently, compared to about 2,000 monthly before the pandemic, Noonan said.

"We're hearing from a lot of folks who've found themselves unemployed and facing eviction or foreclosure," Noonan said.

Last month, the state housing division granted the Brothers hotline nearly $1 million from COVID-19 relief funds that state legislators had appropriated for rental and mortgage assistance. Alison George, the state director of housing, said the money was intended for staffing, equipment, marketing, updating the hotline's website and contracting housing counseling and legal aid services.

Noonan's staff was doubled to 14 thanks to the grant. Staff determine callers needs and connect them to organizations across the state that can provide rental and mortgage assistance and other support. Hotline partners include the Denver Housing Authority; the nonprofit housing developer and homeowner counselor NEWSED, which is based in Denver's Lincoln Park neighborhood; and the Southwest Improvement Council, which also provides housing counseling and is located in the Westwood neighborhood.

"Sometimes people get stuck and they don't know the resources that are out there," Noonan said.

One partner, the Colorado Poverty Law Project, will advise tenants facing evictions and homeowners facing foreclosure. Shannon MacKenzie, deputy executive director of the Colorado Poverty Law Project, said the partnership would help get word out that her organization has hundreds of volunteer lawyers across the state ready to help.

"Hopefully, between both us and Brothers, we're able to help more people than is we weren't working together," MacKenzie said.

Landlords and tenants have had to track sometimes confusing legal changes since the pandemic. A state-level evictions ban expired in June and federal protections soon afterward. MacKenzie said some people may not know that the Centers for Disease Control issued an order on Sept. 4 that largely bans landlords from evicting tenants for not paying rent until Dec. 31.

Noonan of Brothers and MacKenzie of the Colorado Poverty Law Project both expressed concern about what might happen in January.

Noonan said the grant would fund stepped-up operations through the end of the year. After that, Brothers could seek more support from the state and other donors, he said.

Jeff Martinez, president of Brothers, said the grant allowed for a "rebooting" to allow his nonprofit and its partners "to focus on serving the growing (and frankly, alarming) number of households in need of rental and mortgage assistance, and other resources, across the state in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and uncertainty in the state's economy."

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