Resilience and Progress During a Challenging Time

During the final weeks of March 2020, the momentum to advance the city’s 2020 workplans came to a halt as the city pivoted to pandemic response. COVID-19 shut down our city while our community members faced unparalleled financial, mental health, food and housing security strains. As the needs of the community changed, city staff and partner organizations worked countless hours, nights and weekends to plan and implement solutions that were essential during a pandemic.

Now two years later as we begin to emerge out of this pandemic, the HHS team is reflecting not only on the challenges we all faced, but more importantly, on the resilience of our community and the impact we have made which will continue to have long-lasting community benefits for years to come.

CRC volunteer wearing mask

COVID-19 Recovery Center + Homelessness

As the new reality of the pandemic set in, our first task was the ensure that all community members had a safe place to go if they were experiencing symptoms of or tested positive for COVID-19.

By late March, only four days after funding for a facility was approved, the COVID-19 Recovery Center (CRC) was established to provide a safe place for those without a home to isolate and recover from COVID-19. This center was an initiative of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) with the City of Boulder acting as the lead agency for operations.

Due in part to the CRC and targeted testing and vaccination at homeless shelters, COVID-19 rates among the unhoused community in Boulder remained low. The CRC, which will close on Friday, April 29, stayed open throughout much of the pandemic and this 24/7 facility was key to keeping our community safe.

From January 2020 through March 2022, 451 individuals in our community exited homelessness with 228 moving into housing, 180 reunifying with previous housing and 43 entering treatment programs.

Learn more about homelessness in Boulder on the city’s website.

View of three attached townhomes from sidewalk

Affordable Housing

When the pandemic hit, the construction of several affordable housing projects was put on hold. The continuation of this work was essential to making progress toward the city’s goal of ensuring that 15% of all residential development qualifies as permanently affordable to low-, moderate- and middle-income households by 2035.

City staff met with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), developers and subcontractors to create public health policies that would allow construction to re-start on these much-needed affordable housing units. Additionally, the Planning and Development Services Department implemented an electronic permit processes and virtual inspection system to ensure that work could continue.

Despite these setbacks, in 2020 and 2021, 494 homes were added to the city’s affordable homes inventory which represents more than a doubling of affordable housing production to 247 per year, when compared with the average of 126 homes per year since 2000. In April 2022, BHP preserved an additional 110 rental homes at Tantra Lake Apartments bringing our total number of affordable units added since January 2020 to 604 homes.

Of the 604 new homes, 18 were made available for purchase through the Permanently Affordable Homes Program and 586 were made available for rent through Boulder Housing Partners and other local organizations that partner with the city.

The pandemic highlighted just how critical affordable housing is to our community with many individuals and groups that have shown continued support for affordable housing. Looking forward, HHS will continue to work with the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership to leverage federal resources from the American Rescue Plan Act to accelerate affordable housing production and acquisition of both rental units and homes for purchase. The city is actively working to finalize several affordable housing projects that are expected to create more than 1,200 new permanently affordable homes over the next few years.

Learn more about affordable housing in Boulder on the city’s website.

Holiday neighborhood in Boulder, image taken from middle of the street

Eviction Prevention + Rental Assistance

Over the last two years, tremendous effort was also made to keep our Boulder community members housed. In 2021, HHS launched the Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services Program (EPRAS) to provide legal services, mediation and rental assistance to those facing an eviction. In the program’s first year, 390 individuals accessed services and evictions were prevented in 63% of the cases at eviction court. Additionally, $168,536 in rental assistance was distributed to 82 households during this time.

As community awareness of the EPRAS program continues to grow, requests for services, particularly for rental assistance, have increased. In the first quarter of 2022, EPRAS responded to 165 inquires, an average of 55 per month, compared to an average of 24 per month in 2021. Of these inquires, 87% were rental assistance requests. The average rental assistance request is $1,600.

Learn more about EPRAS on the city’s website.

Boulder Flatirons

Did you know that Boulder was the first city in the United States to adopt a sales tax to acquire and maintain open space?

Crisis Intervention Response Team

The Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) launched in February 2021 to help meet the needs of community members experiencing behavioral health crisis. Behavioral health refers to instances where a person is experiencing mental health issues, or a substance use disorder.

CIRT is a co-response team composed of licensed behavioral health clinicians paired with Boulder Police Department officers. Under this program, clinicians and police jointly respond to calls involving a behavioral health crisis to help de-escalate situations and connect those in need to available services.

Key highlights from the program’s six-month report include:

  • CIRT responded to 523 calls for service, with an increasing response trend which appears to be related to both increased utilization of CIRT and increased demand – some of which may be impacted by seasonal trends.

  • About one in four CIRT encounters involved a person experiencing homelessness. Another 8% involved an individual at risk of losing housing.

  • Approximately 25% of 309 unique clients had more than one encounter with the CIRT.

  • Of the 523 encounters involving CIRT, only two (0.4%) involved use of force by an officer.

  • Only six (1%) of the 523 encounters ended in arrest.

The CIRT program grew significantly over the first year with calls for service increasing 250%. As the CIRT program continues, the city is expanding the program as a result of funding recently received through a Department of Justice grant. This will expand capacity and assist the program in referring individuals into care. Crisis intervention is just one piece of the broad spectrum of behavioral health treatment needs supported by the city and its regional partners.

Learn more about CIRT on the city’s website.

Aerial view of Mapleton mobile home park, Flatirons in the background

Supporting Manufactured Housing Communities

More than 1,300 households live in Boulder’s five manufactured housing communities, which provide a lifestyle valued by their community members at a relatively affordable cost. Since 2019, city staff has been working on the Manufactured Housing Strategy Action Plan and despite significant resources impacts due to COVID-19, nearly all action items were meaningfully addressed through local policy changes, state legislation supported by the city, programs and initiatives.

Key highlights include the creation of a guide to navigate landlord-tenant regulations, city code updates to protect buying and selling manufactured homes and regulate landlord-tenant matters in manufactured home communities, the installation of the Ponderosa Community Solar Garden, increased community awareness of the city’s Home Repairs Program and a compilation of resources for manufactured home community members.

Learn more about Boulder’s Manufactured Housing Strategy on the city’s website.

Looking Ahead

The last two years have required adaptability, resilience and focus to maintain a high level of service to the community. We believe that all Boulder community members deserve to thrive.

Regardless of the challenges we have faced, and may face in the future, the Housing and Human Services team will continue to provide resources and community connection so everyone can experience Boulder as a just, inclusive and equitable community.

We believe all Boulder community members deserve to thrive and look forward to continuing to work toward this goal with our partners in 2022 and beyond.