Arapahoe County has opened an in-person clinic to provide legal aid to residents facing eviction.
Located on the third floor of the county building at 1690 W. Littleton Boulevard, the clinic will be open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 8 and 11 a.m.
The program is a partnership with Colorado Legal Services, a statewide nonprofit providing civil legal services to low-income Coloradans.
“There are a lot of people facing eviction right now as a result of the economic consequences of the pandemic and sometimes beyond that," said Jon Asher, the nonprofit's executive director, who added that he hopes the clinic will lead to "a significant increase in the number of Arapahoe County residents we can help."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Arapahoe County had one of the metro area's highest eviction rates, according to a county press release. In 2021, Arapahoe saw the most evictions of any county in Colorado with over 9,000, according to Asher.
Using money allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion federal COVID-aid law, county commissioners recently voted to approve $1.5 million to fund the clinic for three years.
"We have been looking at this program for a while before we even had ARPA dollars because of the eviction rates in the county," said County Commissioner Nancy Jackson.
Asher said it will be enough to maintain at least one lawyer and paralegal at the clinic, though he said he hopes to hire a social worker at some point in the future.
Asher said the clinic's services can help area residents navigate a legal process that is "complicated and intimidating" and often doesn't serve low-income renters. According to Asher, over 90% of landlords are represented by a lawyer while less than 5% of tenants are.
The clinic will be able to help residents fight unlawful evictions, gain tenants additional time to find new housing and keep evictions off tenants' records, which Asher said can create greater barriers to finding new housing.
“It’s my hope we will level the playing field and make the legal process more just and fair to tenants in Arapahoe County," Asher said.
Evictions have been rising county and nationwide following the end of federal moratoriums put in place to protect renters during the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Asher said that his nonprofit, which has 13 offices across the state, has seen a major uptick in renters seeking help.
“Evictions are not just a result of poverty but they cause poverty,” Asher said, adding that "the biggest problem is the high cost and lack of available, low cost housing in the metro area."
Jackson said the county has not conducted a study into the factors behind Arapahoe's high eviction numbers, but also believes housing affordability is a root cause.
"People's ability to pay rent has not kept up with the increasing costs," Jackson said.
The social and mental effects of eviction are also great, Asher said, forcing renters to sometimes find new jobs and relocate children to new schools.
“I think the emotional toll that it takes is immense," Asher said.
Asher said he is hopeful the clinic in Arapahoe County will be successful and said a similar program in Adams County, which also partnered with Colorado Legal Services, has helped many area residents.
According to Arapahoe County's press release, the Adams County program represented 695 people across 363 households, 85% of which were able to stay housed by gaining more time to move elsewhere or by obtaining a housing voucher.
While the funding is for three years, Jackson said it's possible that, should the program prove successful, it could be extended using other funding sources.
"My hope and my hunch is this pilot will prove its worth and we'll be able to continue the program," Jackson said.