Ana and her husband, both undocumented housekeepers for a hotel in Vail, have been dreading the arrival of the first of the month. They lost their jobs when the hotel shut down on March 18, and used their remaining savings to pay their April rent of $1345 for their lot in the mobile home park.Although Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order on April 30 prohibiting evictions for the rest of May, they worry that skipping rent now will make them vulnerable to eviction once the crisis is over. Ineligible for the state emergency rental assistance program and Eagle County’s emergency rental assistance as well, a $2,000 loan from friends in Texas helped them temporarily make do. “The park hasn’t given us any discount; we don’t know what will happen come June,” she says.
As unemployment continues to soar, many Coloradans face difficulty paying their rent this month. But undocumented immigrants like Ana and her husband are particularly hard-hit. Although immigrants are overrepresented in industries devastated by the economic shutdown — including restaurants, hotels, and cleaning services — the state’s emergency rental assistance fund and many county emergency relief funds exclude undocumented immigrants. These rental assistance programs could provide vital relief for immigrant families, as undocumented immigrants are ineligible for unemployment benefits and federal stimulus payments as well. Even as the state starts to reopen, industries like the service sector where undocumented immigrants work are likely to offer only limited hours. Public officials must open their emergency rental assistance funds to undocumented residents to protect them from eviction.
On March 20, Gov. Polis created a $3 million fund to provide rental and mortgage assistance for low-income families facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. The fund prioritizes aid to those who had “continuous prior work history” yet lost work due to the stay-at-home-order, and who are “most vulnerable to eviction” due to meager savings and poor unemployment benefits. Perhaps no group meets these criteria better than undocumented immigrants. Yet, citing a 2006 law, the guidelines for administering the state’s funds restrict assistance to those with legal status.
Colorado counties have stepped in to create their own emergency assistance relief funds for residents. However, many — including Eagle, El Paso, Jefferson, and Garfield counties — also exclude households headed by undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants in these counties who require rental assistance are told to apply through their county portals and wait to be contacted by the county to determine if their families are eligible for other forms of assistance. However, alarmed by questions asking for their Social Security Numbers or their family’s legal status, some do not continue.
If counties like Eagle and Garfield continue to exclude undocumented immigrants from their emergency relief funds, this restricts these individuals and their families to the scarce philanthropic funds donated to community agencies. The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities serve undocumented immigrants, but they limit rental assistance to one-time payments of a portion of the monthly rent alone. Even as the state starts to reopen, the low-wage industries in which undocumented immigrants are concentrated are unlikely to return full-strength. As a result, these community agencies may find their rental assistance funds stretched beyond their capacity. As Marian McDonough, the Western Slope Regional Director of Catholic Charities, puts it, “If we get the same kind of demand in June that we’ve seen in April and heading into May, we won’t be ok.”
The governor’s amended executive order on April 30 provides some relief for residents, strengthening his previous order by limiting evictions for 30 days. While this will temporarily protect families like Ana’s, a one-month window is unlikely to suffice. Ana and her husband still have no work, and in mid-April the park issued an eviction warning to her neighbors—even during the governor’s recommended moratorium on eviction. To protect Colorado renters, the governor’s eviction moratorium must continue for the months ahead.
In addition, public officials must open state and county emergency assistance funds to all residents, regardless of legal status. The state and many counties say they are hamstrung by a 2006 law that requires public entities to verify the lawful presence of every individual who applies for public benefits. Yet this is a tragic misunderstanding of the law, as it specifically exempts in-kind, non-cash emergency disaster relief programs from this requirement. The state’s and county’s rental assistance programs, which pay landlords directly, should be exempt.
Undocumented immigrants’ exclusion from federal assistance and unemployment insurance make local rental assistance programs their only option for relief. To ensure immigrant families weather this crisis, counties and the state must open their emergency assistance programs to all.
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