AFC advocates for landlords/tenants to seek support

Aspen Times, February 3, 2021

Local landlords urged to tap federal program that provides rent relief

Property Owner Preservation Program would help save local funds for Pitkin County officials

Jason Auslander:  jasonauslander@aspentimes.com

 

Local public welfare officials are urging Aspen and Pitkin County landlords with tenants who can’t pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic to enroll in a federal program that will reimburse them for the unpaid rent.

The Property Owner Preservation Program is administered by the state, though the $54 million authorized by the state legislature for it comes from federal CARES Act money, according to the Department of Local Affairs website.

“The Western Slope has really not been using the program much,” said Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of health and human services. “But (landlords on) the Front Range have been going crazy for it.”

Sundeen and others involved in providing assistance to those who live and work in Pitkin County but have lost jobs because of the pandemic would like to see more area landlords apply for the program to make local assistance money last longer.

“If we can use federal funds first, it saves local dollars,” she said “We want to make those dollars go farther and keep people in their housing.”

Indoor restaurant dining has been closed since Jan. 17, when Pitkin County moved into Red level restrictions amid a skyrocketing COVID-19 incidence rate that has since decreased dramatically. Members of the restaurant industry have said the closure would result in between 1,200 and 1,500 layoffs, though need in the community has been increasing steadily since November, said Katherine Sand, director of Aspen Family Connections.

Still, requests for rent and food assistance in January have been pouring in, possibly as a result of of closing restaurants, which causes a cascade effect on hotels and other businesses, Sand said. Last week, for example, 250 households needed food distribution assistance, up from around 185 the week before, she said. The weekly food distribution takes place Wednesdays at the Aspen Golf Course.

“Two-hundred and fifty is where we were last April,” Sand said. “Those were our highest numbers. We went up last week in a big way.”

Those individuals and families in need are building up large amounts of debt, often with credit cards that are expensive and difficult to pay off.

“I worry about that (debt) even more,” Sand said. “Our ability to help people with really significant debt is limited. Often it’s just chipping away at an iceberg.”

The POP program is one way to thwart some of that debt, said Sand and Sundeen, and there’s plenty of federal money behind it.

Property owners must apply for the POP program on behalf of tenants who can’t pay rent because of the pandemic, according to online DOLA guidelines. Application rules are not onerous, Sand said, while landlords can request rent reimbursement as many times as necessary “as long as funding is still available and the tenant still has need,” the guidelines state.

The rules for the program can be found online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AvYy73J4GDNn5V9b4aL-wAoASGy3Qia5/view  .

Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and the owners of the Roaring Fork Apartments in Basalt have applied or will apply for the POP program, Sundeen said. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority also is looking at applying, though the funding would only apply to the 347 units the agency actually manages, said Cindy Christensen, APCHA deputy director.

“We really need large landlords to apply for the program,” Sundeen said, adding that employers who own rental housing also can apply.

Pitkin County recently allocated $400,000 to help local families and individuals weather the pandemic, but that money will only last so long, they said. And with the pandemic expected to last as long as another year, it’s important to make that money last. “Frankly, I don’t see this ending soon,” Sand said.

And even when it does finally end, there will be a lag before a lot of people – many of whom have not had to ask for public assistance before – will be able to get back on their feet, she said.

“It’s just awful talking to people who are in tears,” Sand said. “These are not people who are living large and being irresponsible.”

It’s also important for people in need to seek out public benefits like food assistance, Medicaid and other programs that can provide a lifeline, they said.

Tenants whose landlords won’t apply for the program can apply on DOLA’s website for the state’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program. More information can be found at https://cdola.colorado.gov/rental-mortgage-assistance  .

More information about food assistance and other financial assistance programs also can be found at https://covid19.pitkincounty.com/financial-layoff-resources/

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