Denver Initiated Ordinance 305: Should landlords be taxed to pay for free legal representation for tenants facing eviction?

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Denver’s grassroots group No Eviction Without Representation, or NEWR Denver, put the measure on the November ballot. If voters say yes, it would create a program for all tenants facing eviction to get free legal representation. While Denver already has a program in place to pay for free attorney services for people facing eviction who earn less than 80% of the region’s median income, or $105,500 for a family of three, that would extend that right to everyone. The program would be funded by a $75 tax increase on homeowners per property they own.

Here is the language you will see on the ballot.

Shall the taxes of the city of Denver be increased annually by eleven million nine hundred eighty-six thousand eight hundred seventy-five dollars ($11,986,875.00) (first full year increase), and any amount additional levied annually thereafter of an excise tax to be paid by owners on each individual residential property held for rental in the amount of $75 per year per property, the tax rate increasing each year by following at a rate that does not exceed the Colorado consumer price index;

And in this regard, should all revenues collected be used to finance:

  • The administrative cost of the tax, and subsequently for
  • Establish, manage and fully fund a program to provide legal representation to tenants facing loss of housing through evictions and administrative proceedings;
  • Provide a Legal Services and Tenant Assistance Coordinator to administer the program;
  • Create a tenant committee composed of seven members paid an allowance of $1,000 per year; and shall the full proceeds of such taxes at such rates and all revenue therefrom be collected, retained, and expended, as voter-approved change of income, without limitation or condition, and without limiting the collection, retention or the expenditure of any other revenue or funds by the City of Denver under Article X, Section 20, of the Colorado Constitution or any other law?

Here’s how it would work.

Homeowners would be taxed annually at $75 per property they own, which would bring in $11,986,875 in the first year. The tax rate would be increased each year and the amount would be based on the Colorado Consumer Price Index. It is a measure provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics of the evolution of the average prices of things in a metropolitan area.

The money raised would be used to create and fund a program that would provide legal aid to people who are being evicted from their homes by their landlords. This would fund legal services for tenants and pay someone to coordinate the program. This measure would also create a seven-member tenant committee. Members would receive $1,000 per year for their work on the program.

If more is raised than spent, the money could go into the city’s general fund.

Here’s who’s for and against.

The group No Eviction Without Representation claims that thousands of residents are evicted each year. When the procedure begins, if the tenants do not have legal aid, their chances of losing their housing increase considerably.

The bill, as NEWR proposes, is designed to end homelessness by keeping people in the places where they live, even when their landlords try to evict them. While the vast majority of landlords have attorneys when processing an eviction, most tenants do not, and according to the group, this is fundamentally unfair. Just as defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel, those facing deportation should do the same.

A broad coalition of neighborhood groups, progressive nonprofits, churches, and even pro-development organizations support her. The American Civil Liberties Union, Democratic Socialists of America, 9 to 5 National Association of Women, Colorado COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, Colorado Poverty Law Project, Communication Workers of America Colorado and Wyoming Council of States, East Colfax Community Collective, East Colfax Neighborhood Association, the Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition, Indivisible CO, the May Day Club, the National Coalition for Civil Right to Counsel, New Era Colorado, Westwood Unidos, Park Hill United Methodist , the United Campus Workers and the Working Families Party all endorsed the initiative, and the pro-growth group YIMBY Denver all endorsed I-305.

As of August, no committee formally opposed I-305, although Colorado Apartment Association Vice President Drew Hamrick spoke out against it, arguing that it would have an inflationary effect on the economy.

The non-partisan, conservative-leaning Common Sense Institute has recognized that legal defense for tenants could reduce homelessness and associated costs. But the group argues the measure would raise more money than would be needed to provide a universal defense against evictions. The city already offers eviction defense services and rent and utility payment assistance to income-eligible people, making this measure redundant.

“Designing a new program that helps renters without harming landlords is difficult given that most landlords are individuals who have their own mortgage and tax obligations,” the Common Sense Institute wrote in a position paper. “At a time when rents are skyrocketing and housing deficits are impacting the availability of rental accommodation, the ordinance’s measure will only increase rental costs for tenants as well as administrative costs for the owners.”

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