Denver has broken eviction court case records in 2023 — and it’s only the start of November

City Council is pushing to add more funding to the city’s emergency rental assistance programs.
4 min. read
Denver seen from a Southwest Airlines flight on Feb. 3, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Already in 2023, Denver County Court has seen more eviction case filings than in any other year since at least 2008.

This year's number of households facing eviction in court is higher than those of any year during the pandemic and even through the Great Recession and its recovery.

In October alone, 1,629 households faced eviction in court. That number marked a five-year record high. The second-highest number of eviction filings came in May, with 1,216 cases.

So what does this mean? A lot of people are housing insecure and facing homelessness.

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Eviction cases are filed when a landlord decides to take a renter to court to get a judge's permission to kick out a tenant for a variety of reasons. Most eviction cases are for non-payment of rent.

Households facing eviction cases are a fraction of those who are dealing with housing insecurity, who cannot afford rent and who leave their home at the first sign a landlord is considering evicting them.

There have already been 10,849 eviction cases filed in court this year with two months to go, and the city is on track to exceed 12,000.

"The filings are a trailing indicator, not a leading indicator of displacement, which I think is really, really scary," said Zach Neumann, eviction defense attorney and head of the Community Economic Defense Project.

For comparison, the average number of eviction case filings in court in the decade before the pandemic emergency was 8,999.

"The numbers continue to be stupefying," Neumann said.

What's driving the increase in eviction case filings?

"Denver's Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance (TRUA) program has temporarily stopped accepting applications until January, when the program receives additional funds through the 2024 budget," explained Derek Woodbury, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Stability. "We know how important rent and utility assistance is, especially as we continue to see record eviction rates in the city.

"Unfortunately, with the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) closing applications in August, the need shifted entirely to TRUA and has resulted in the full spend down of the $22 million in ERAP and TRUA funds budgeted for this year, much of which came from ERAP," he added.

While Denver funds eviction defense attorneys for many people at risk of losing their homes, there is little lawyers can do to protect tenants at risk from non-payment cases without having access to money to pay back the rent tenants owe.

Seasonal eviction trends don't bode well for the rest of the year given that eviction filings typically rise during the winter.

The numbers are not likely to drop month-to-month until next year when more rental assistance money becomes available.

City Council is working to increase how much the city will spend on rental assistance.

As of Monday, Mayor Mike Johnston had committed $15.6 million to rental assistance in his 2024 budget. That's an increase in city money compared to recent years, but $9 million less overall since federal pandemic funds have dried up.

In response, a group of City Councilmembers have levied their limited power over the budget to push for more rental assistance.

Last Monday, nine Councilmembers successfully voted to pass an amendment adding nearly $15 million in additional rental assistance. But it was a controversial move; the money would come from the city's emergency reserves, which could have financial implications for the city in the case of a recession or other crises.

On Monday, City Council will consider a new amendment that would secure similar funding for rental assistance, but through a number of other sources that do not include reserves. It's a rare amendment sponsored by all 13 Councilmembers, making it veto-proof if Johnston wanted to reject the plan.

How does Johnston's office plan to address the spike in evictions?

"The expiration of federal rental assistance presents a major risk to our community, in terms of more Denverites losing housing," wrote Johnston's spokesperson Jordan Fuja, in a statement. "We are committed to working with partners to increase funding to meet the total need.

"In addition to bringing people indoors, Mayor Mike Johnston is also committed to preventing homelessness by setting an ambitious goal of adding 3,000 units of affordable housing each year," Fuja wrote. "He is in regular conversations with landlords across the city to identify vacant units and create a more coordinated process to connect people facing housing instability with units."

Housing advocates and some City Councilmembers argue that Johnston would be smart to increase rental assistance even more because it would work in tandem with his pledge to end and prevent homelessness.

Through his House1000 initiative, attempting to shelter 1,000 people for 14 days each by the end of the year, he's managed to bring 210 people inside.

Meanwhile, since July, when he took office, 4,763 people have faced eviction filings in court.

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