Many renters take a lot of pride in their home. Photo by Paula Mayer
Many renters take a lot of pride in their home. Photo by Paula Mayer

With both the national moratorium on evictions and federal aid through the CARES Act set to expire at the end of this month, tens of millions of Americans are at risk of being evicted. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, a wide range of individuals and entities have been working collaboratively to help community members remain in their homes.

The local Landlord Tenant Relief (LTR) Fund emerged through the Mountain Voices Project, which is composed of about 30 institutional members, including churches, schools and nonprofits from Parachute to Aspen. At the onset of the pandemic, representatives from each member institution reported on the greatest need they were seeing among their clients. Concern about paying rent topped the list.

As MVP member Jon Fox-Rubin told The Sopris Sun, when low income families are struggling, “every extra cent they have is preserved for rent…which is why we’re seeing such a high utilization of free food resources.” 

The LTR Fund depends upon landlords and renters working in tandem. Tenants are required to pay landlords a third of back rent due and a third of rent for three months, and landlords are asked to forego up to a third of back rent due plus a third of future rent for three months. The LTR Fund fills in the remaining gaps for three months, and possibly longer. If tenants or landlords can’t afford this arrangement, they are still encouraged to apply as other sources of support may be identified. Local nonprofits vet the clients and guide them through the application process for accessing LTR Funds.

The idea was borrowed from the City of Aspen, which paid one-third of the rent for qualifying commercial tenants for up to three months as part of the city’s COVID recovery effort. Major contributors include the Aspen Community Foundation, City of Glenwood Springs, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Eagle County and Pitkin County. Garfield County Commissioners denied MVP’s request for funding in August, but stated that they would reconsider it in the future. The Uncle Bob Foundation, which operates under the Garfield County Housing Authority, acts as the fiscal agent for the LTR Fund.

A total of over $205,000 has been committed to the fund, should that amount be needed. Only about $4,250 has been dispersed so far, serving eight families and a total of 44 people, all of whom live in Garfield County.

MVP continues to seek local institutions, including churches and schools, who are interested in helping to identify clients and distribute the funds. 

Alice Steindler, Director of MVP, told The Sun that one of the challenges they’re facing is that for many people, it’s difficult to ask for help. “It’s human nature to want to make it on your own,” Steindler said. “These are proud people. And the prouder you are, the harder it is to ask for help.”

Robert Hubbell, co-owner of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, has partnered with his tenants to enable them to continue to pay their rent. With the help of the local nonprofits English in Action and Valley Settlement, he has distributed a list of local resources to tenants who are struggling economically and has provided help with filling out applications. 

“We’re really trying to work together as a team–tenants and landlords,” Hubbell told The Sun. “Our number one priority is to make sure that everyone stays in their home.” 

All 50 of Hubbell’s renters have been able to continue paying rent so far. He’s hopeful that he and his tenants won’t have to apply for LTR Funds, but appreciates that the funds are there “as a last resort to make sure someone is able to stay in their home–as charities run out of funds or state funding ends.”

In cases where tenant-landlord communication is not so easy, Aspen Legal Services is offering free mediation services to facilitate an agreement “if possible” between landlords and tenants who are having a housing dispute caused by COVID-19.