Low-income Denverites will be able to get an attorney for free during eviction proceedings

Council voted unanimously to pass a bill that basically codifies giving low-income residents free legal representation.
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Denver Democratic Socialists, dressed as grim reapers, protest a lack of eviction protections in front of the Capitol. May 26, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver City Council unanimously passed a bill supporting potentially thousands of people facing evictions by providing them with free legal representation in court.

The so-called right to counsel bill was sponsored jointly by Council members Candi CdeBaca and Amanda Sawyer. CdeBaca said last month the program would help as many as 5,000 people a year stay housed and potentially even avoid homelessness.

Tenants rarely have legal representation when facing evictions. The bill would give people in those proceedings access to attorneys for free, improving their chances of staying housed. It would only apply to people earning 80 percent or less of the area median income, which in Denver equates to $54,950 for a one-person household.

"Passage of this ordinance is a win for renters during a critical moment when pandemic protections are being lifted, and more tenants than ever are vulnerable to evictions in our city," CdeBaca said in a statement to Denverite.

The bill now heads to Mayor Hancock's office for his signature. If he signs off, the program will go into effect Sept. 1.

The city currently offers a program providing free legal services. The bill passed Monday effectively codifies that program into law and requires landlords to tell tenants about it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium, which was prompted by the pandemic and only applies to people who face COVID-related setbacks, is still in effect in Denver, according to city Department of Housing Stability spokesperson Derek Woodbury. The moratorium will expire on June 30, though there are still other resources available for people in Colorado who are facing housing struggles.

Despite the moratorium, evictions are still taking place in the city, though data from Denver County Court shows significantly fewer eviction requests were filed last year, when the pandemic started, than in 2019. Still, more than 300 evictions have already been carried out in 2021 due to certain violations, and more than 800 were still carried out last year, according to the Denver Sheriff Department, which enforces evictions.

The Department of Housing Stability will be responsible for choosing a contractor to provide the legal services outlined in the bill. CdeBaca has estimated the program will cost about $4 million annually and have an 80 percent participation rate.

Boulder voters passed a law last year that establishes a similar program, joining cities including Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

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