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Eviction Prevention Initiatives

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Summer 2021   


Eviction Prevention Initiatives


      • Philadelphia’s Eviction Diversion Program requires landlords to apply for rental assistance and enter mediation with tenants before they can file an eviction case, thereby alleviating the strain on courts and encouraging parties to reach resolutions that keep tenants in their homes.
      • The Eviction Prevention Program in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers rental assistance to tenants at risk of eviction by requiring tenants, landlords, and judges, to sign conditional dismissals ― agreements that allow tenants to repay past-due rent.
      • Colorado’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which emerged in response to high rates of eviction due to the pandemic, offers eligible tenants legal services and rental assistance through the Colorado Stability Fund.

People seated at round tables in a room listening to a presentation by an individual in front of a projector screen.
In 2020, the National League of Cities and the Stanford Legal Design Lab initiated the Eviction Prevention Cohort. City officials from five cities, including Philadelphia and Grand Rapids, received technical assistance, virtual training, and peer-to-peer resource sharing on preventing evictions in their respective cities. National League of Cities

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments and nonprofit organizations have adopted various policies and programs to mitigate the pandemic-induced eviction crisis and keep residents in their communities stably housed. Some of these tools include local government moratoria that stay evictions in the short term, whereas others, such as eviction prevention and diversion programs incorporating financial aid, counseling, and legal assistance, can be effective longer-term interventions for at-risk tenants. The city of Philadelphia launched its Eviction Diversion Program in September 2020, pairing mediation support with emergency rental assistance for landlords and tenants.1 Grand Rapids, Michigan, created its Eviction Prevention Program in 2018 as a 3-year pilot to offer one-time rental assistance and legal services to those facing eviction.2 Philadelphia and Grand Rapids, along with Richmond, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, participated in the Eviction Prevention Cohort, an initiative launched by the National League of Cities (NLC) and Stanford Legal Design Lab in June 2020 to brainstorm strategies and share lessons to mitigate the eviction crisis.3 Nonprofit organizations have also emerged as important actors in preventing evictions during the pandemic. A Colorado nonprofit, the Community Firm, provides legal services and financial assistance to affected residents through its COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.4 These programs offer landlords and tenants avenues for structured communication and rental assistance to avert evictions and their cascading effects on families and the community.

Philadelphia Enacts Eviction Diversion

Nearly half of all Philadelphia households are renters, and 55 percent of them are housing cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their household income on rent.5 Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia had the fourth-highest eviction rate among large U.S. cities.6 In 2016, more than 1 out of 14 renters in Philadelphia faced eviction, and in 2017, the city had approximately 24,000 formal eviction filings. Historically, households headed by African-American women with children and those with low educational attainment have been disproportionately affected by evictions in Philadelphia.7 From 2018 to 2019, 2.8 times more eviction cases were filed against African-American renters in the city than against White renters. Nearly 9 percent of African-American renters were evicted during this period compared with 5.2 percent and 3.1 percent of Hispanic and White renters, respectively.8 Such disparities in eviction filings, especially in South Philadelphia and other low-income neighborhoods with minority residents, spurred the creation of programs to address these challenges.9

In September 2017, Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney established the Mayor’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response, which solicited input from stakeholders to assess the city’s eviction challenges and recommend strategies for eviction prevention. One of the task force’s recommendations was to increase legal representation for low-income tenants, and in January 2018, the city partnered with nonprofit legal services agencies to establish the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project (PEPP).10 Managed by Community Legal Services (CLS), an organization offering free legal representation and advocacy, and a coalition of other legal services and tenant advocacy organizations, PEPP provides several services for individuals facing eviction, including free legal assistance, onsite attorneys in court through its Lawyer of the Day program, housing and financial counseling, community education, a tenant hotline, and an informational website.11 The task force also recommended that the city implement a prefiling mediation program that could resolve conflicts between landlords and tenants before they could escalate to an eviction filing in court.12 In fall 2019, the city received funding to conduct an eviction diversion pilot program led in large part by Good Shepherd Mediation Program (GSMP), a nonprofit neighborhood justice center that recruits and trains volunteer mediators, and CLS.13 Over 4 months, GSMP worked with a small number of landlord-tenant pairs to reach resolutions. Through this pilot, program partners began envisioning how a diversion program could operate and the necessary partners for conducting mediation and outreach, ultimately laying the groundwork for a larger program to assist tenants and landlords during the pandemic.14

Two side-by-side maps of city of Philadelphia showing eviction rates and racial composition by neighborhood.
Compared with the city’s White and Hispanic renters, African-American renters in Philadelphia have historically faced higher rates of eviction filings. City of Philadelphia

Pandemic Response

In June 2020, Philadelphia enacted the Emergency Housing Protections Act (EHPA) to help tenants grappling with pandemic-induced income loss remain in their homes and prevent mass evictions. EHPA authorized the creation of the Eviction Diversion Program and required landlords and renters to enter a mediation process before initiating formal eviction proceedings in court.15 The program officially launched on September 1, 2020, a day after Pennsylvania’s eviction moratorium expired.16 The city contracted with GSMP to mediate incoming cases because of its previous mediation experience in the pilot. According to Sue Wasserkrug, program administrator at GSMP, the major goals of the diversion program were to avoid mass evictions, encourage communication between landlords and tenants, and prevent filings that could permanently stain tenants’ records.17

Thirty days before filing for eviction, landlords must send tenants a notice of rights that outlines the process for qualifying for protections under EHPA.18 The tenant must complete a COVID-19 Certification of Financial Hardship form and deliver it to the landlord, who must then request mediation through the Eviction Diversion Program web portal before filing in court. GSMP staff then assign mediators and schedule the mediation conference call, which occurs within 30 days of the request. GSMP also assigns tenants a housing counselor, drawn from a network of social service agencies, so they can discuss finances, determine the amount of rental assistance needed, and devise an affordable repayment plan (if rental assistance does not cover the arrears).19 During the call, mediators write the agreement using a standard template. GSMP staff review and email the final agreement to landlords and tenants, maintain records of all the agreements, and code the outcomes of each case on the city portal.20 The goal is to reach an agreement that benefits both tenants, who have lost income because of the pandemic, and landlords, who need rent payments to avoid foreclosure.21

An individual standing in front of a mural wall with a television screen giving a presentation.
Philadelphia’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response, cochaired by Mitchell Little, gathered input from community stakeholders on the city’s eviction challenges and made recommendations to the mayor and city council. City of Philadelphia, Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity

In January 2021, the city extended the mandate for landlords to participate in the Eviction Diversion Program, which was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020, through March 31, 2021.22 City officials also explored the possibility of operating the diversion program under the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Partners were concerned that once participation in the Eviction Diversion Program was no longer mandatory, many landlords would proceed to file, overwhelming the court system. On April 1, 2021, the Municipal Court passed a 45-day order (later extended through August 31, 2021) requiring landlords to apply for rental assistance and participate in the Eviction Diversion Program before filing a residential eviction case in court for nonpayment of rent.23 Before this order, the Eviction Diversion Program operated separately from the court system, and the Municipal Court did not screen out cases that were already enrolled in diversion or were out of compliance with EHPA requirements. As a result, landlords filed many eviction cases that instead should have gone through the diversion process, and the tenants in these cases faced eviction judgments as well as filings, both of which are in a tenant’s permanent record and are barriers to finding stable housing in the future. CLS worked with landlords’ counsel to prepare a bench card to help the court understand EHPA protections. The new court order streamlines the diversion process for landlords and tenants because, by screening filings, the court ensures that all landlords and tenants are able to access rental assistance and diversion before filing an eviction case, thus preventing unnecessary court filings, reducing the burden on the court, and resolving cases without a harmful eviction filing on a tenant’s record.24

Federal funding and support from the city council will allow the Eviction Diversion Program to continue through August 2022, sustaining the program beyond the pandemic.25 During three phases, from May 2020 through March 2021, the city provided more than $65.6 million in emergency rental assistance (ERA) funds to more than 16,000 households through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as well as state and city assistance received from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.26 In the fourth phase, as of April 2021, $97 million in ERA funds allocated from the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act had been secured for rental assistance and utility payments, and additional funds will come from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.27 In phase four, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 eligible tenants will receive up to $2,000 per month for up to 18 months to pay back rent and no more than 3 months of forward rent. Assistance to pay current or past utility bills is also available.28

As of May 2021, the Eviction Diversion Program had mediated approximately 1,200 cases, of which about 80 percent had reached agreements or continued negotiating agreements. According to Rachel Garland, managing attorney in the housing unit at CLS, most participants have complied with the agreements, the majority of which are repayment arrangements enabling tenants to stay in their homes. When the Eviction Diversion Program began, GSMP conducted 10 to 15 mediations per week, but as awareness of the program grew, the number of mediations skyrocketed to an average of 50 to 60 per week by November 2020, with an additional 40 to 80 cases going through a triage process that streamlined agreements for high-volume landlord attorneys.29

The program’s tenant education component, led by housing counselors, has also prevented tenant-landlord conflicts from arising by teaching tenants how to resolve issues outside of court. CLS is hopeful that the Municipal Court will continue to extend the Eviction Diversion Program participation mandate or make it permanent. Doing so would help normalize this “culture shift” of communication and persuade landlords to favor diversion over eviction, which would keep tenants in their homes and encourage regular dialogue with tenants to resolve disputes.30

Overcoming Challenges

Unlike a court case, in which one party wins and another party loses, mediation involves facilitating a conversation between the landlord and the tenant with the goal of reaching a resolution. Wasserkrug stated that prefiling mediation is a “win-win-win” because landlords get their income back without the hassle of going to court or dealing with tenant turnover, tenants avoid having to move out or go to court, and the entire community averts the devastating consequences of mass evictions.31 The newness of the Eviction Diversion Program, however, meant that many landlords and tenants were unfamiliar with it and unsure of its legitimacy.32 A survey of 600 landlords in September 2020, along with indepth interviews with landlords, property managers, and attorneys from March to October 2020, revealed that many landlords were unaware of the program. Approximately 73 percent of Philadelphia’s landlords own just one or two units, making up 18 percent of rental units in the city. Roughly 40 percent of mom-and-pop respondents with portfolios of 5 units or fewer were aware of the program compared with nearly 65 percent of landlords with 30 or more units.33 Because the city relies on these smaller landlords to provide unsubsidized affordable housing, ensuring that they are aware of the program and its benefits is critical.34 Opposition to diversion among landlords decreased as they learned that working with existing tenants to obtain funding was in their economic best interest, and, according to Garland, landlords who participated in the program once or twice quickly realized that diversion was a useful tool.35

Among the hurdles to reaching tenants are missing or outdated phone numbers and email addresses. Diversion requires partners to work under tight deadlines, and they prefer to contact tenants using email, text messages, and phone calls rather than through postal mail, which creates delays. Many landlords do not have their tenants’ phone numbers and email addresses, so the program, noted Garland, “has been shifting the culture for the landlords to have this information” and prioritize communication with their tenants.36

A view of downtown Grand Rapids with a highway in the foreground.
The pace of eviction filings amid an affordable housing shortage led the city of Grand Rapids and its partners to launch the Eviction Prevention Program in 2018 to offer rental assistance and legal services to at-risk tenants.

Another challenge, Wasserkrug noted, is running a program that essentially is still being built. She credits the success of the Eviction Diversion Program to a strong coalition of partners that have been flexible and willing to adapt as unanticipated changes to the program arise. Regular updates keep the mediators informed of revised protocols based on feedback from housing counseling agencies, landlords’ attorneys, landlords, and the mediators themselves.37 In addition, CLS is involved in building and troubleshooting the program and holds weekly sessions with housing counseling agencies to sort through tenant cases and offer suggestions. “This is a whole new area of law” for the groups running the program, said Garland, and CLS is improving the program’s design by hosting listening and training sessions with housing counselors, mediators, landlords, and landlords’ attorneys to collect feedback on what aspects of the program are working well and what changes need to be made.38

For situations in which diversion has not been successful or is not appropriate, CLS can determine which cases require legal representation through PEPP. The Eviction Diversion Program and rental assistance can resolve situations related to nonpayment of rent or other low-level issues, “but there are a lot of other things that can lead to eviction, and tenants need attorneys to be able to handle these other processes,” Garland stated. A repayment agreement will not necessarily solve problems involving overdue maintenance or hazardous living conditions. Such situations can be legally complicated and beyond the scope of a housing counselor’s role, and CLS is in a unique position to intervene and reroute tenants to PEPP.39 According to Garland, the success of PEPP led the city council to unanimously pass a right to counsel law, enacted on December 4, 2019, that offers free legal representation for low-income residents facing eviction.40 Philadelphia is one of the few cities in the nation to adopt a right to counsel law for low-income residents.41 The city plans to phase in the right to counsel over 5 years but has yet to fund the program.42 Garland emphasized the need to examine eviction holistically and to recognize that, unfortunately, rental assistance and diversion will not solve all eviction challenges. Funding for right to counsel, she asserted, will help tenants resolve more complicated eviction issues.43

Preventing Evictions in Grand Rapids

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was already facing an affordable housing shortage. In 2019, an estimated 33,615 households — 44.6 percent of all Grand Rapids households — were renters, and 52 percent of them were cost burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.44 In Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located, rates of homelessness among African-Americans are disproportionally high because of increasing housing prices and a history of discriminatory housing policies. In 2019, nearly 1 out of 6 African-American children in the county accessed the homeless system compared with only 1 in 130 White children.45 From January 2018 through December 2020, 9,679 eviction cases were filed in the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids. The quickening pace of eviction filings is an indication of rising rents and stagnant wages, a longstanding concern among residents.46 A court pilot program to prevent evictions was one of the recommendations put forth by a 2015 citizen work group formed to discuss the future of the city’s housing and develop policy solutions.47

Connie Bohatch, managing director of community services in the city of Grand Rapids, met with colleagues at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), The Salvation Army (TSA), and the 61st District Court to determine the feasibility of creating an eviction prevention program.48 With the full support of partners, Grand Rapids’ Eviction Prevention Program (EPP) launched in January 2018 as a 3-year pilot offering rental assistance and legal services to tenants at risk of eviction. A total of $300,000 from the Steelcase Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation funded a caseworker at TSA and half the cost of a full-time eligibility specialist with the Kent County office of MDHHS. MDHHS matched the remaining cost of its EPP staff.49 The city allocated additional Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) funds in 2019 to support increased TSA staffing and case management. Foundation funding also supported an annual program evaluation. With funding for the pilot exhausted, the city now draws from its general operating fund to support the local share of the MDHHS staff and sustain the program.50

EPP provides one-time rental assistance to eligible tenants facing eviction because of nonpayment of rent by allocating funds from the State Emergency Relief (SER) Program and other sources. Along with the eviction notice and court summons, tenants also receive a multilingual flyer from the 61st District Court describing rental assistance available through EPP and instructions for enrolling in the program.51 Tenants typically reach out to TSA — Kent County’s coordinated entry agency — to determine rental assistance options; however, because TSA has developed a rapport with landlords, many landlords direct their tenants to contact TSA. In some cases, landlords will contact TSA and request that a case manager speak with their tenants to explain the process, noted Todd Furlong, social services manager for housing services at TSA in Kent County.52

A woman talking to three other people seated at the same table with papers and a bottle of water on the table.
During the National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference held in March 2020, local officials such as Connie Bohatch (second from left) of Grand Rapids discussed eviction prevention strategies, resources, and policy solutions. National League of Cities

The largest source of EPP funding is MDHHS, which administers SER, Emergency Services, and Kent County Discretionary funds.53 Jana Kuiper, the eviction prevention specialist at MDHHS, reviews SER applications, cross-references the docket and explores tenants’ eligibility for other funding options at the state and city level.54 Over the course of the pilot, EPP secured $575,357 from several sources in addition to MDHHS, including city ESG funds, churches, and other local agencies. Staff coordinate the various financial resources to fulfill a tenant’s particular needs based on eligibility; tenants often receive rental assistance from several sources. The average amount allocated per household for each pilot year was $1,412, $1,764, and $2,654, respectively.55 According to Bohatch, the average amount allocated per household since the pilot ended (during the pandemic) has increased to approximately $4,000.56 In April 2021, Kent County received about $38.5 million from the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act for the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. CERA offers tenants another source of rental assistance. In addition to paying between 10 and 12 months of back rent depending on income level, CERA allows tenants to request assistance with utility payments and up to 3 months of forward rent. To qualify for CERA funding, a tenant’s household income must not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, and assistance is limited to no more than 150 percent of the HUD Fair Market Rent for the county of residence and household size.57

Before the pandemic, TSA and MDHHS staff members were stationed at the courthouse for only two docket dates per month to initiate eligibility screenings for eviction prevention services and emergency financial assistance before a case appeared before the judge.58 Arlene DeKryger, eviction prevention coordinator at TSA in Kent County, said that during the pandemic, she and the MDHHS partner take turns attending hearings virtually so that they can screen interested tenants for eligibility every week.59 Prospective EPP participants must meet the income thresholds appropriate for one or more funding sources and live in an apartment that is affordable at that income. State funding sources require tenants to demonstrate an ability to pay the following month’s rent; however, if a tenant is unable to pay future rent, TSA and MDHHS can access other funding sources to assist. In addition, tenants must have a landlord willing to keep them as a tenant and enroll in the state electronic SIGMA Vendor Self-Service and MDHHS MI Bridges systems to receive payments.60

View of a courtroom showing the judge and stenographer and people on a television screen mounted on a wall.
During virtual hearings, 61st District Court judges advise tenants and landlords of their rights and obligations and are available to sign conditional dismissals, which offer tenants an avenue to avoid eviction. Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids 61st District Court

A major component of the program is the requirement that the tenant, landlord, and judge sign a conditional dismissal or stipulation agreement, “a solution that would avoid essentially having an eviction on someone’s record,” said Judge Jennifer Faber, of the 61st District Court. A conditional dismissal gives tenants time to repay past-due rent with program funds and protects landlords from having to restart the process if the tenant violates the agreement.61 If the landlord receives payment in full, then the eviction suit is dismissed and the tenant’s credit report is unaffected.62 Under state law, the stipulation agreements must grant tenants at least 10 days to pay the past-due rent. In some cases, the parties may agree to a longer repayment period, recognizing that the funds may take time to access. Judge Michael Distel of the 61st District Court observed that the key to accessing the funds is for the tenant to follow through with completing the necessary paperwork to ensure eligibility.63

When the program began, Faber and Distel were the only judges running the landlord-tenant hearings, but as the program developed, more judges understood it and would sign the conditional dismissals. Two landlord-tenant hearings per case are now required under the recently amended Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order No. 2020-17. In the pretrial hearing, judges are obligated under state law to advise tenants of available services and their right to counsel. Following the first hearing, the court adjourns the case for 7 days, allowing tenants time to consult with their legal aid attorney.64 At any point before, during, or after the hearings, judges can sign a conditional dismissal with the consent of both parties, noted Faber. The judge’s main role is to ensure that the parties are aware of the obligations stated in the agreement and the consequences for failing to comply.65 EPP often requires a tenant contribution or “copay,” which can come from different agencies, family members, or out of pocket. On average, the tenant copay from January 2018 through December 2020 was $623. MDHHS, the city, and local agencies determine available funds to help program recipients satisfy their copayments. For example, an adjustment in MDHHS policies to allocate more state emergency services monies and a partnership with Kent County Community Action have increased the amount of funds available to help tenants meet their obligation without putting their next month’s rent at risk. Tenants who fail to comply with the agreement face the penalty of eviction; landlords who are not paid in full can reinstate the eviction by filing an affidavit of default.66

Positive Results Through Community Outreach

From January 2018 to December 2020, EPP served 324 households totaling 981 residents, which included 456 adults and 525 children. During that period, the 61st District Court entered a total of 445 stipulations representing 4.6 percent of all landlord-tenant cases coming through the court. Note that a stipulation agreement does not necessarily guarantee a tenant’s receipt of, or eligibility for, EPP funds. In fact, 199 cases that secured a stipulation agreement did not secure EPP funding. Cases that do secure funding are more likely to avoid an eviction judgment. In 2020, nearly 80 percent of EPP cases avoided an eviction judgment compared with 49.3 percent of non-EPP cases.67

Building awareness of the program has been vital to its success. In the pilot’s early stages, Judges Distel and Faber, along with 61st District Court staff, attended meetings with the Rental Property Owners Association (RPOA) to discuss the program and its benefits for landlords and tenants. In addition, Bohatch presents information on EPP and answers questions from landlords and tenants at community and rental property owner events. Before the pandemic, tenant education occurred mostly within the courthouse itself, both through signs posted at check-in and through onsite staff who explained the program to those needing rental assistance. In-person meetings for clients and representatives from MDHHS and TSA took place in courthouse conference rooms. Although some were concerned that parties would not be able to attend remote hearings, turnout has been higher than expected. In addition, Distel indicated that because attorneys from legal aid organizations attend the remote sessions, the shift to remote hearings during the pandemic has increased the accessibility of legal representation. Funded through the Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus CARES Act monies allocated by the city, legal aid attorneys who attend the hearings can schedule appointments with tenants to help them navigate the process and access information. Virtual quarterly meetings composed of stakeholders including the city, MDHHS, judges, court administrators, and legal aid attorneys help to monitor the program, collect feedback, and adjust the program as needed. Moreover, the 61st District Court administrative team has been flexible and willing to adapt to programmatic changes, which, Bohatch emphasized, has helped EPP run smoothly.68

The final pilot evaluation determined that the lack of a stipulation agreement was the primary reason why an eviction case might be deemed ineligible for EPP. Early on, some landlords were hesitant to register on Michigan’s electronic SIGMA Vendor Self-Service and MDHHS MI Bridges systems to receive EPP payments because they did not fully understand or trust the process. Ongoing outreach to landlords has been key to expanding the program and overcoming these perceptions.69 The community outreach groundwork paid off during the pandemic; many staffers report that landlords are more willing to enter stipulated agreements.70 The share of all eviction cases (regardless of EPP participation) that adopted stipulation agreements rose from 3.4 percent in 2018 to 7 percent in 2020.71 As Distel stated, “it’s not just a one-way street” in which only tenants benefit. EPP allows landlords to continue to meet their business obligations, and many understand the challenges that tenants are facing and are willing to work to reach an agreement.72

Opportunities for Growth

A common reason why tenants failed to qualify for EPP was that they were facing eviction from a unit that was not considered affordable at their income level. Although EPP’s assistance can avert a short-term housing crisis, the program does not resolve the underlying causes of evictions: income instability, increased housing costs, and a shortage of affordable housing units. The city is continuing the discussions that followed the 2015 citizen work group’s findings, with a focus on mixed-income housing and ensuring that at least 30 percent of the housing stock is affordable to lowincome households. Increasing racial equity remains a challenge as the city investigates policies to address eviction disparities. Most tenants who received EPP assistance were female-headed African-American households with minor children. From 2018 to 2020, 68.5 percent of EPP participants were African-American, 82.4 percent were women, and 43.2 percent were single with minor children. Bohatch also pointed to the overrepresentation of African-American families experiencing homelessness in Kent County and the need to determine “access points” for assistance “to get ahead of the curve” so that families do not have to endure financial hardship for extended periods or navigate the court system.73

View of three- and four-story buildings fronting a two-way street with parked cars.
The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project offers free legal assistance for renters at imminent risk of eviction and connects them to case managers who can fast-track rental assistance through the Colorado Stability Fund.

Another continuing challenge that first emerged during the early stages of the pilot is the need to reach tenants before they receive a court summons or before a landlord files for eviction, explained Tanya Todd, clerk of the 61st District Court. Twice a week, the 61st District Court sends its docket of tenants with scheduled hearings to both TSA and MDHHS to alert staff of those facing eviction. Although these tenants have already received a court summons, TSA and MDHHS can contact them before their hearings to begin the paperwork, positioning tenants further along in the process by their hearing date. This practice does not catch tenants before eviction the way a prefiling program does, but it serves as one remedy to help tenants start their eligibility paperwork and access funds so that they enter their court hearing better prepared, noted Todd.74 She also observed that data on tenants’ longterm housing stability after receiving EPP assistance would help stakeholders better understand the impacts of the program.75 Program partners determined that the need exists for improved education and outreach to help tenants understand the process, as well as holistic case management and wraparound services to mitigate tenants’ future vulnerability to eviction.76

Discussions are ongoing about future funding for the EPP program.77 Beyond screening for eligibility and processing applications, EPP caseworkers also fulfill program advocacy and community education goals crucial to the program’s success.78 Program partners are currently examining opportunities for stakeholders such as RPOA to support the program financially. In addition, partners are examining ways to streamline the program and improve its cost efficiency.79

Program partners have also sought to learn from other eviction prevention initiatives locally and nationwide. Meetings with officials operating the Kalamazoo County Eviction Diversion Program led the Grand Rapids team to adopt strategies such as having onsite staff at the courthouse available to assist those needing rental assistance. Bohatch noted that participation in the NLC Eviction Prevention Cohort was also an avenue for the Grand Rapids team to learn from other cities with similar goals by discussing policy solutions, sharing resources, and examining strategies for community engagement.80

Colorado Nonprofit Assists Tenants Facing Eviction

Early data modeling at the beginning of the pandemic conducted by the Community Firm, a Colorado nonprofit, determined that by September 2020, nearly 420,000 people living in 181,000 renter households in Colorado would owe nearly $765 million in past-due rent and would be at risk of eviction.81 Approximately 35 percent of all Colorado households are renters, and 51 percent of them are housing cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their household income on rent.82 Recognizing the adverse effects of these alarming trends on low-income households, the Community Firm created the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP) in April 2020 to provide legal aid and advocacy for families in Denver and Lake counties.83 CEDP cofounders Sam Gilman and Zach Neumann harnessed their robust network of volunteer attorneys and tenant advocates to collect and share resources for families and individuals at risk of or facing eviction during and after the pandemic.84

At its inception, CEDP focused on providing legal services, research, and policy advocacy.85 Recognizing that most incoming cases stemmed from nonpayment of rent and that lawyers alone would not be able to solve Colorado’s eviction crisis, CEDP expanded its mission to provide rental assistance through the Colorado Stability Fund, piloted initially with support from foundations and social impact investment organizations. For tenants struggling with a temporary hardship related to health, transportation, or unemployment, rental assistance is all they need to make them current. For those who are already facing eviction in court or who owe money on an expired lease, “paired legal services and rental assistance is really important,” said Gilman. In situations in which a tenant’s lease is about to expire, paying off the back rent alone often will not keep a tenant in their home; in these cases, lawyers can also negotiate a new lease for the tenant along with rental assistance payments to obtain long-term stability for the family.86

The pilot concept, which ran from June 2020 through December 2020, was funded in part through a Gary Community Investments grant. Through rental debt buyouts, CEDP negotiated reduced rates with landlords for past and future rent payments and paid them a single lump sum, often renegotiating or updating leases as a part of the negotiations. This structure proved successful and served more than 160 households. In April 2021, Colorado received $247 million in ERA program funds from the U.S. Department of the Treasury allocated under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act.87 CEDP has now scaled up its efforts as a state ERA provider, and the Colorado Stability Fund is the CEDP entity that disburses ERA funds to tenants in Denver County and Lake County.88 ERA funds can be used to pay rent dating back to April 2020, but assistance is limited to 12 months of past-due rent. To qualify for assistance, tenants must earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income. Depending on funding availability, tenants can also apply for ERA funds to pay up to 3 months of future rent at a time. At least one household member must have lost income, incurred unexpected costs, or experienced other hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, tenants must show that at least one household member is at risk of homelessness.89 Rental assistance is limited to no more than 150 percent of the HUD Fair Market Rent for the county of residence.90

Tenants can access CEDP assistance through several intake channels. The Colorado Stability Fund’s primary intake channel is the state’s ERA application system. The Colorado Stability Fund assists individuals in Denver and Lake counties who indicate imminent eviction risk on their state rental assistance applications, elevating applications for legal assistance for which rental assistance alone is unlikely to stabilize the tenancy. Legal aid partners also refer their at-risk clients to the program. In addition, referrals to the Colorado Stability Fund can come from community organizations and other entities that are working with vulnerable groups, such as the Lake County Unmet Needs Committee, a multiagency coalition that negotiates with landlords and provides financial relief to families affected by the pandemic that do not qualify for, or have exhausted, government assistance. In Denver County, CEDP also partners with the East Colfax Community Collective, a neighborhood coalition of residents and nonprofits.91 CEDP partners with these community organizations to provide rental assistance referrals, legal services, and legal aid clinics to residents.92

Breaking Barriers To Stabilize Households

Gilman stated that as the volunteer team delved deeper into the work of representing clients and engaging with community partners, the team realized that improving tenant protections through state legislation would be critical to resolving many of the root causes of the eviction crisis, and providing legal representation to tenants was only one part of the solution.93 Since the pandemic began, CEDP and its partners have advocated for reforming landlord-tenant laws in the state. In March 2021, CEDP testified before the Colorado Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on Senate Bill (SB) 173: Rights In Residential Lease Agreements, which Governor Jared Polis signed into law on June 25, 2021. The law caps late fees on unpaid rent and gives renters additional time to pay back rent. The law also enables tenants to claim a landlord’s “breach of warranty of habitability” as a defense in court without paying a bond. Gilman explained that tenants whose units are unsanitary or poorly maintained need to be able to assert this claim as a defense during an eviction hearing.94

Because the eviction process often outpaces the time needed to secure rental assistance, CEDP aims to fasttrack assistance. To achieve this goal, a key component of the Colorado Stability Fund is the ability to issue upfront payment through a line of credit, which CEDP repays with ERA funding. These advance payments allow CEDP to stabilize households quickly rather than risk waiting for funding in the face of an impending eviction.95 As of early June 2021, tenants statewide have requested $70.3 million in rental assistance through ERA. From March 2021 to early June 2021, the state processed 3,221 ERA applications for Denver County and 30 for Lake County, and it approved $1.9 million and $25,400 in rental assistance for households in Denver County and Lake County, respectively.96

The need for rental assistance exceeds the scope of CEDP’s capacity and service area. CEDP frequently receives intake calls from tenants outside of Denver or Lake counties, requiring difficult conversations with tenants that staff are unable to assist. As the project continues to evolve and recruit additional lawyers and tenant advocates, it will expand to additional counties. CEDP also is building stronger partnerships with community organizations for case management, and its tenant advocates are in place to connect those who require services beyond rental assistance to supports in the community.97

To qualify for rental assistance, tenants must complete the necessary paperwork, which presents an additional burden for many families in CEDP’s service area. Lacking access to a computer to upload documentation in the online intake form is a common barrier to accessing assistance. One solution, stated Gilman, is sending some of the documents by text message. In addition to technology barriers, tenants must parse legal jargon when completing paperwork. Case managers and lawyers work with clients to answer questions, explain the process, and summarize legal documents in an easy-to-understand way. Although roughly half of the CEDP team speaks Spanish fluently, the team coordinates with partner community organizations to provide translation services as needed. A critical step toward ensuring that cases are resolved quickly is conducting an initial review of the applications. Each week, as the operations team assigns cases, intake staff members assess whether a case can be resolved quickly with rental assistance or whether it will require other community resources or translation services. This review allows case managers and tenant advocates to evaluate their caseloads, process cases faster, and draw on resources to assist clients who need more personalized attention.98

As CEDP moves beyond the pandemic, it is building the infrastructure needed to strengthen the connection between rental assistance and legal services. CEDP continues to advocate for rental assistance as part of the state’s larger response to housing insecurity. The organization’s ultimate goal is to become a single point of contact for eviction prevention, where tenants can receive rental assistance before the eviction timeline expires and connect to legal services if they need additional support, and where other legal aid providers can refer clients who need funding before their court hearings. Offering rental assistance to stabilize households is cost effective in the long run, Gilman noted, because it mitigates the adverse effects of eviction on communities and families such as homelessness, higher rates of COVID-19 infections, and other negative consequences.99


By combining financial assistance with housing counseling and legal aid, the eviction prevention programs discussed above have proven mutually beneficial for landlords and tenants, allowing tenants to remain housed during a public health emergency and landlords to make mortgage payments and maintain their properties. In addition, preventing an eviction crisis benefits the community by relieving the burden on the court system, shelters, and social service providers.100 In Philadelphia, identifying and targeting assistance to at-risk tenants and mandating that landlords apply for rental assistance before filing an eviction case reduces strain on the court system and strengthens the lines of communication between tenants and landlords to avoid evictions and pursue alternate solutions. Grand Rapids entered the pandemic equipped with a program infrastructure already in place and the trust of local landlords because of their participation in the Eviction Prevention Program pilot. With the pandemic increasing need, the program has been able to combine various funding sources to offer tenants rental aid. As awareness of the benefits of participation continues to build, landlords and tenants in both cities are increasingly willing to embrace the programs as an alternative to eviction. In Colorado, CEDP is focusing on the timely distribution of funds to vulnerable tenants facing a fast-paced eviction process and advocating for state-level action to address the eviction crisis. As households continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impacts, such programs will provide at-risk tenants with a critical safety net. Through strong partnerships and funding support, these programs can continue to stabilize households at risk of eviction even after the pandemic ends.

  1. Interview with Rachel Garland, 4 May 2021; City of Philadelphia. 2020. "Philadelphia Launches Eviction Diversion Program," 31 August press release.
  2. Métrica. 2018. "Grand Rapids Eviction Prevention Pilot Program: Year 1 Evaluation Report," 5, 8.
  3. Natasha Leonard, Alexis Butler, and Lauren Lowery. 2021. "How Five Cities Tackled Eviction Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic."
  4. "About," COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project website ( Accessed 22 March 2021.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates Data Profiles. 2018. "Philadelphia city, Pennsylvania."
  6. City of Philadelphia. 2020. Bill No. 200294, AN ORDINANCE Amending various sections of The Philadelphia Code to address matters related to the landlord and tenant relationship during the novel coronavirus of 2019 pandemic and otherwise, including providing for an eviction diversion program, and making certain technical changes, all under certain terms and conditions.
  7. City of Philadelphia. 2018. "Mayor's Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response," 3, 6, 8.
  8. Ira Goldstein, Emily Dowdall, Colin Weidig, and Janine Simmons. 2021. "Evictions in Philadelphia: Race (and Place) Matters," Reinvestment Fund, 2.
  9. Mark Treskon, Solomon Greene, Olivia Fiol, and Anne Junod. 2021. "Eviction Prevention and Diversion Programs: Early Lessons from the Pandemic," Urban Institute and the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative, 20.
  10. City of Philadelphia 2018, 3; 5; 28; 50; City of Philadelphia. 2018. "Mayor Kenney Announces Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project," 30 January press release.
  11. 2020. "Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Program (PEPP)," 30 September blog post; "About CLS," Community Legal Services of Philadelphia website ( Accessed 26 May 2021.
  12. City of Philadelphia 2018, 5. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug, 6 May 2021.
  13. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug; Interview with Rachel Garland; "About CORA Good Shepherd Mediation Program," Good Shepherd Mediation Program website ( Accessed 7 May 2021.
  14. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  15. City Council of Philadelphia. 2020. "City Council Enacts 'Emergency Housing Protection Act' to Provide Groundbreaking Protection for Renters During COVID Pandemic;" City of Philadelphia. 2020. Bill No. 200294.
  16. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 2020. Order of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Staying Notice Requirements for Specified Actions Related to the Dispossession of Property; Interview with Rachel Garland.
  17. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug.
  18. Interview with Rachel Garland; "COVID-19 Emergency Tenant Protections," City of Philadelphia website ( Accessed 6 May 2021; City of Philadelphia. 2020. "Notice of Rights for Residential Tenants under the Emergency Housing Protection Act."
  19. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug; Interview with Rachel Garland; "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) City of Philadelphia's Eviction Diversion Program," City of Philadelphia website ( Accessed 23 March 2021.
  20. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug.
  21. "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) City of Philadelphia's Eviction Diversion Program."
  22. City of Philadelphia. 2020. Amending Chapter 9-800 of The Philadelphia Code, entitled "Landlord and Tenant," to address matters related to the landlord and tenant relationship during the novel coronavirus of 2019 pandemic, including but not limited to periods of applicability of various provisions, such as the applicable period of the eviction diversion program, and time frames applicable to qualification for certain provisions, all under certain terms and conditions.
  23. Interview with Rachel Garland; Philadelphia Municipal Court. 2021. Amended No. 15 of 2021, In re: Residential Eviction Moratorium and Exceptions. Service of Writs and Alias Writs of Possession; Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 2021. In Re: First Judicial District of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia Municipal Court's Request Pursuant to Pa.R.J.A.1952(B)(2)(s) to Temporarily Authorize Continuation of the Philadelphia Municipal Court Landlord-Tenant Diversion Program.
  24. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  25. Taylor Allen. 2021. "What landlords and tenants need to know about Philly's new eviction rules," WHYY, 1 April.
  26. City of Philadelphia. 2021. "Philadelphia: Supporting Tenants & Landlords."
  27. Erin James. 2021. "Human Services Department, Sen. Browne, Sen. Haywood, Philadelphia Mayor Kenney, Delaware County Officials Urge Families, Landlords In Southeast Pennsylvania To Apply For Rental And Utility Assistance." PA Media 12 April post; Interview with Rachel Garland.
  28. "About," City of Philadelphia website ( Accessed 5 May 2021.
  29. Interview with Rachel Garland; Interview with Sue Wasserkrug.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug.
  32. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  33. Vincent Reina, Sydney Goldstein, Emily Dowdall, Ira Goldstein, Elizabeth DeYoung. 2020. "Residential Rental Property Owner Perspectives and Practices in Philadelphia: Evaluating Challenges during the COVID-19 Pandemic," Reinvestment Fund, 3, 7; Elinor Haider and Octavia Howell. 2021. "Who are Philadelphia's Landlords?" Pew Charitable Trusts, 24 February.
  34. Taylor Allen. 2021. "Philadelphia's small landlords have run out of time," WHYY, 17 March.
  35. Treskon et al., 18; Interview with Rachel Garland.
  36. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  37. Interview with Sue Wasserkrug.
  38. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  39. Ibid.
  40. City of Philadelphia. 2019. Amending Chapter 9-800 of The Philadelphia Code, entitled "Landlord and Tenant," by adding a new Section 9-808, entitled "Legal Representation in Landlord Tenant Court," providing for access to free legal representation to the City of Philadelphia's low-income residents facing eviction in Landlord Tenant Court; under certain terms and conditions; Interview with Rachel Garland.
  41. Sandra Park and John Pollock. 2021. "Tenants' Right to Counsel is Critical to Fight Mass Evictions and Advance Race Equity During the Pandemic and Beyond," American Civil Liberties Union.
  42. 2020. "Right to Counsel," 17 December blog post; Interview with Rachel Garland.
  43. Interview with Rachel Garland.
  44. U.S. Census Bureau, 2015-2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. "Grand Rapids city, Michigan."
  45. KConnect. 2020. "Redefining the Path Home: System Building for Housing Stability in Kent County," 5-6, 14.
  46. Métrica. 2021. "Grand Rapids Eviction Prevention Pilot Program. Final Evaluation Report: 2018-2020," 2, 14, 35. Document provided by Connie Bohatch, 12 May 2021.
  47. City of Grand Rapids. 2015. "Great Housing Strategies: Addressing Current and Future Housing Needs," 7-8.
  48. Interview with Connie Bohatch, 7 May 2021.
  49. Métrica. 2018. "Grand Rapids Eviction Prevention Pilot Program: Year 1 Evaluation Report," 5-7; Interview with Connie Bohatch.
  50. Email correspondence from Connie Bohatch, 9 June 2021; Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger, 11 May 2021.
  51. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd, 12 May 2021; 61st District Court. 2020. "Eviction Prevention Program" Flyer. Document provided by Tanya Todd, 12 May 2021.
  52. Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger.
  53. Métrica 2021, 27.
  54. Kathleen O'Brien. 2018. "City of Grand Rapids Eviction Prevention Program, 2018 Annual Report Feature Story;" Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  55. Métrica 2021, 27.
  56. Interview with Connie Bohatch.
  57. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd; Interview with Connie Bohatch; Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger; Michigan State Housing Development Authority. 2021. "COVID Emergency Rental Assistance FAQ;" Kent County Community Action. 2021. "Coronavirus Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CERA) Implementation Plan."
  58. Métrica 2018, 10; Métrica. 2019. "Grand Rapids Eviction Prevention Pilot Program: Year 2 Evaluation Report," 20, 27.
  59. Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger.
  60. Métrica 2019, 14; Métrica 2018, 10; Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger; Interview with Connie Bohatch.
  61. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd; Métrica 2021, 6.
  62. Métrica 2018, 11.
  63. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  64. Ibid; Michigan Supreme Court. 2020. Administrative Order No. 2020-17 – Priority Treatment and New Procedure for Landlord/Tenant Cases; Michigan Supreme Court. 2020. Amendment of Administrative Order No. 2020-17 – Priority Treatment and New Procedure for Landlord/Tenant Cases.
  65. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd; Email correspondence from Jennifer Faber, 19 May 2021.
  66. Métrica 2021, 26, 27–8, 35, 36; Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  67. Métrica 2021, 25-6, 29, 35.
  68. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  69. Métrica 2021, 21; Métrica 2019, 26–7.
  70. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  71. Métrica 2021, 25–6.
  72. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  73. Interview with Connie Bohatch; Métrica 2021, 2, 22–3, 34; Interview with Connie Bohatch.
  74. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  75. Joint interview with Todd Furlong and Arlene DeKryger; Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  76. Métrica 2019, 26–7.
  77. Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd.
  78. Métrica 2021, 33.
  79. Interview with Connie Bohatch.
  80. Métrica 2018, 7; Joint interview with Michael Distel, Jennifer Faber, Connie Bohatch, and Tanya Todd; Lauren Lowery, Natasha Leonard, Alexis Butler, Kyle Funk, Tina Lee, Margaret Hagan, and Luciana Herman. 2020. "The Eviction Prevention Cohort: Highlights from the Five-City Pilot," 10.
  81. "About" COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project website ( Accessed 18 May 2021; Marco Dorado and Sam Gilman. 2020. "Reducing Eviction Risk in Colorado."
  82. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates Data Profiles. 2019. "Colorado."
  83. Interview with Sam Gilman, 17 May 2021; The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. 2020. "Overview."
  84. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  85. Treskon et al., 12.
  86. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  87. Ibid.; "About the Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)" Colorado Department of Local Affairs website ( Accessed 18 May 2021; Colorado Department of Local Affairs. 2021. "Colorado Pandemic Housing Relief Programs Dashboard Changelog."
  88. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  89. "About the Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)"; Colorado Department of Local Affairs. 2021. "Colorado Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) Frequently Asked Questions."
  90. HUD Fair Market Rent (FMR) in 2021 in Denver County ranged from $1,179 to $2,486 for an efficiency and a four-bedroom unit, respectively. The 2021 FMR for Lake County ranged from $746 to $1,370 for an efficiency and a four-bedroom unit, respectively; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. "The FY 2021 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO MSA FMRs for All Bedroom Sizes;" U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2021. "The FY2021 Lake County, CO FMRs for All Bedroom Sizes;" Colorado Department of Local Affairs 2021.
  91. Interview with Sam Gilman; "CEDP & Colorado Stability Fund Intake," COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project website ( Accessed 18 May 2021; "Unmet Needs Committee," Full Circle of Lake County website ( Accessed 18 May 2021; "The East Colfax Community Collective," East Colfax Neighborhood Association website ( Accessed 18 May 2021.
  92. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  93. Ibid.
  94. Interview with Sam Gilman; Colorado General Assembly. 2021. SB21-173: A BILL FOR AN ACT CONCERNING RIGHTS RELATED TO RESIDENTIAL RENTAL AGREEMENTS; Colorado General Assembly. 2021. "SB21-173 Rights In Residential Lease Agreements Concerning rights related to residential rental agreements, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation."
  95. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  96. Department of Land Affairs, Division of Housing. 2021. "State of Colorado Pandemic Relief Housing Program Dashboard."
  97. Interview with Sam Gilman.
  98. Ibid.
  99. Ibid; Sam Gilman. 2021. "The Return on Investment of Pandemic Rental Assistance: Modeling a Rare Win-Win-Win," Indiana Health Law Review, 18, 294.
  100. Métrica 2018, 8.


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