By Talia Traskos-Hart
This November, Denver voters will determine whether to establish a legal representation fund for tenants facing eviction.
The ballot initiative in question, Initiative 305 titled “No Eviction Without Representation,” would establish an eviction defense fund through a $75-per-unit annual property tax levied on landlords. In total, an estimated $12 million would be generated to fund representation and a review board for eviction cases.
Wren Echo, one of the leading members of the campaign for the initiative, noted her hope that this measure could reduce incidences of homelessness in Denver by allowing those facing eviction to better understand and defend their cases.
“The most important thing to know is that this measure would keep a lot of people off the street,” Echo said.
Currently, tenants being evicted from their homes do not have a universal right to legal representation, although the city provides legal assistance for families and individuals making at or below 80% of the area median income. But Echo explained that barriers to entry to the current program can often be exorbitantly high.
“Even if people qualify, they may not know they qualify,” she said. “When you put up these barriers to entry instead of just making it a universal right people don’t access that service.”
Between 2014 and 2016, as proponents of the measure reported in their petition to get on the ballot, over 95% of tenants did not have legal representation in eviction cases. This amounts to thousands of unrepresented tenants, as nearly 5,600 eviction filings were reported in Denver in 2022.
In New York City, Baltimore, Boulder, San Francisco, and other cities across the nation, legal representation has been granted as a universal right in cases of eviction. In San Francisco, studies on the results of the measure have shown higher rates of success in court for potential evictees by as much as two times.
Drew Hamrick, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, noted opposition due to what he sees as “over-lawyering” of what is, in essence, a supply problem.
“There’s a huge swath of people that haven’t made up their mind on the issue,” he said. “I really do think that what’s wrong with the Denver housing market is there’s not enough housing out there to go around.”
Hamrick also noted his concern that the $75 fee on landlords would fall on tenants, increasing rent prices. Echo countered that the exemption for small landlords would cause the cost of the measure to fall more on large real estate companies than individual renters.
“Real estate companies are the ones evicting people in the first place and who can afford to pay that tax,” Echo said.
The measure has garnered support from external legal groups, such as the Colorado Poverty Law Project. Jack Regenbogen, a policy and advocacy staff attorney at the project, noted that representation can help ease the burden of eviction hearing processes on tenants.
“Although most tenants do not currently have access to legal assistance, those who do are much more likely to remain housed, have additional time to locate more housing, or avoid having an eviction entered onto their public record,” he said. “Everyone deserves to have meaningful due process before experiencing the potential loss of their housing.”