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Eviction moratorium extension hangs in the balance as COVID relief bill not yet law

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By the end of the year, thousands of North Dakotans unable to pay rent could face eviction.

“Now, you know, we’re at the 11th hour,” said Richard LeMay, Executive Director of Legal Services of North Dakota.

The latest COVID relief bill passed by Congress but not yet signed into law includes a monthlong extension of the CDC’s halt on evictions. If passed, it could give tenants another month to come up with rent money. LeMay says evictions on the first of February will be just as bad as those in January.

“I just don’t see it making the kind of impact that most people would think it would,” LeMay said.

LeMay says the process to request the moratorium is cumbersome, and he suspects few people who would benefit from using it are even aware of it.

“They have to fill out the document, they have to get it to everybody. If you’re at the point of being evicted, meaning you haven’t paid your rent, probably means you don’t have any income to do anything else, so how are you going to hear about this?” LeMay said.

The state’s Emergency Rent Bridge program, which started in May, acts as a bridge between housing providers who still need an income, and renters who may have lost theirs.

“Since then we’ve been able to help over 1,300 renters across the state,” Department of Human Services Executive Policy Director, Jessica Thomasson said.

The program is meant to be temporary and can help provide rent for a household up to six months.
Of those the program has helped, about half, 54 percent, have children under 18.

Thomasson says a moratorium would be a temporary fix, but not really solve the problem.

“It gives renters some measure of protection from going through an eviction process through that short period of time. The eviction moratorium isn’t sufficient in and of itself to resolve the issue,” Thomasson said.

So far this year there have been 2,427 eviction case filings, which doesn’t necessarily mean every case resulted in an eviction. LeMay says it’s the third-highest amount of filings in the past decade. He says he wishes the government did more to assist those hardest hit — even by tapping into its emergency funds.

“The state has got the rainy day fund, well, it’s pouring,” LeMay said.

Applications for the rent bridge program are still open and can be found here.

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