Colorado group recognized by White House for efforts to help people facing eviction

Earlier this month, the White House brought together officials from around the country and an organization from Colorado, which discussed evictions in the United States, was invited to join the conversation.

Zach Neumann is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. KUNC’s Beau Baker spoke with Neumann this week about the project and the eviction situation in Colorado.

Interview highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zack Neumann.jpg

COVID19 Eviction Defense Project


Zach Newman

Zach Neumann started the COVID19 Evictions Defense Project when he was a pro bono attorney. His motivation was a flood of emails and phone calls from strangers asking for help.

Bo Baker: Zack, first of all, congratulations on the attention from the White House. how was that for you?

Zach Newman: It’s incredibly exciting and a little scary. We had to present our model. But we were thrilled to be there and really excited to talk about the work we’ve been doing here in Colorado for the past two years.

Baker: How did the COVID 19 Eviction Defense Project come about? Where were you and what were you thinking?

Neumann: yes. I mean, if you said two years ago that we would be working on evictions in 2022 and working on COVID-related evictions, I wouldn’t have believed you.

At the time, I was doing a lot of pro bono eviction defense work. Represented them in court and provided legal services and support for clients, usually those who were unable to pay their rent. volunteer. When COVID hit, I posted a message on social media and basically said if someone was having a hard time paying their rent, if they had no idea what they were going to do, if they needed help. Anyway, please contact me. send me a message I am happy to support you. deducted from my account. Didn’t come back for 24 hours. And when I got back there were 500 messages. A stranger was reaching out. People somehow found my phone number and texted me. And there are moments in your life when you feel like there’s really something here.

I think we took off from there and started as a community organizing project. I was just trying to provide legal services and a little bit of educational information. From there, we built an organization of over 100 people to provide emergency rental assistance through the Colorado Stability Fund. We provide legal services and have a policy shop. And our whole team thinks that this is something he’s been really serious about and invested a lot in over two years.

Baker: Zack, please explain how the project will help someone facing eviction.

Neumann: So our philosophy is to always make this as easy as possible for people. So, through the Colorado Stability Fund, I’m trying to see if I’m eligible for the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program to understand the rent debt I owe my landlord. Assuming you are, we will make that payment as soon as possible.In most cases both. it takes care of everything. The landlord just wants the money, the renter just wants the money.

Checks handle 90% of the cases we see. However, the remaining 10% have unresolved issues or more difficult situations. In such cases, our foundation refers those clients to our firm, our team of lawyers. What we find in most of these examples is that combination of rental assistance and access to a lawyer solves the situation.

Baker: From your perspective, especially considering that you started in 2020, are things getting better for in-state renters? What’s the picture like today?

Neumann: I don’t know if it has gotten better. I don’t think it got any worse. I would say it is different. So when the pandemic started, suddenly a significant portion of the state’s workforce was unable to go to work. people cannot make a living. They had no income. As a result, they were unable to pay their rent.

I think most people are back to work now, but housing costs have risen dramatically. So we have a lot of clients whose rent is 50 or 60% of their pre-tax income even though he works 40, 50, 60 hours a week. So it’s basically most of your after-tax income. They have little left for food. They have little left for childcare. If something goes wrong with your finances, you will suddenly not be able to pay your rent. So we’re really struggling as an organization and with our clients. Alongside clients, I have to say that housing costs here in the state are incredibly high.

Baker: What do you think underlies most evictions, and how can some of the issues be effectively addressed?

Neumann: The United States has serious problems in that the civil legal system has become an alternative means of debt collection in most parts of the country.

When you think about eviction, most likely someone is unable to pay. they owe money And the threat of being evicted from their home is a tool used to raise that money. You know, we hear it a lot in the world of medical debt. We hear about this a lot in the world of consumer debt.

I think our focus is on providing better tools for people facing these types of challenges. Whether it’s an eviction, a foreclosure, an issue you’re facing, an illegal or abusive tow truck, or if you lose your car, maybe it’s medical debt, but really focus on There is a civil legal system, a financial problem that people are trying to solve.

Baker: What’s next for the project?

Neumann: I don’t think we’re going anywhere. Therefore, we will change the company name. I’ve mentioned this in a few places, but I’ll be renaming it to the Community Economic Defense Project soon. This, of course, recognizes our mission in the eviction space, but we also foresee moving into mortgages and foreclosures. defense. We will continue to work on driving housing.

We will continue to work on issues related to mortgages and medical loans and will do everything in our power to maintain and stabilize the financial well-being of our families.

Zack Neumann, co-founder and executive director of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project

If you or someone you know is having trouble paying rent and could use help with an eviction defense project, visit the organization’s enrollment form for those in need of legal or rental assistance. I can do it.

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