And, if you’re facing eviction, what’s the next step?

Between 16,000 23,000 households in North Dakota are at risk of eviction as a direct result of the pandemic. That comes from August data from the National Low Income Housing Association.

To give you a better picture of just how many people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, it’s up to 21 percent of North Dakota renters.

“I’m surprised it’s that low. It’s hard for elected officials to say, ‘Well, I don’t see the people on the street right now’. Well, I say this all the time: ‘Well, we don’t wait for the flood to hit our ankles to start sandbagging’,” shared Dane DeKrey, Advocacy Director for the ACLU of North Dakota.

About four months ago, the ACLU of North Dakota called for a freeze on evictions and foreclosures.

The state responded, instead, with a Rent Bridge Program under the Department of Human Services. It provides assistance for up to six months, for eligible renters who are struggling to pay rent.

“So we look at, ‘has there been a change in your household income, of some kind, since March?'” added Dept. of Human Services Executive Policy Director, Jessica Thomasson.

The North Dakota ACLU Advocacy Director says this could be that sandbagging effort, because it provides financial assistance by a direct payment from the state to the landlord.

But still, he says, evictions are up this year in Burleigh and Morton counties.

“More than are happening in Cass, and obviously Cass County is much bigger. And so that is sort of our canary in the coal mine where we really have leaned back in, and are asking, what’s the reason for that? Because that’s up from last year,” DeKrey elaborated.

We asked Jessica Thomasson, how many people are being helped by the Rent Bridge?

She responded, “We’re probably seeing, I’d say about 40-50 new applications, pretty steady. It goes up and down. So far we’ve been able to help just over 450 renters in about 17 counties across North Dakota.”

She says that’s out of somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 applications, but that does include many people, who don’t make it past the initial questionnaire.

And, DeKrey makes it clear, landlords are likely hurting too.

“The misnomer is that it’s this pitting landlords against tenants; pitting people against people…like, we’re all in this together. And if the lowest people fall and they get kicked out of their apartments, I don’t see them filling those units. And so, it’s a domino effect,” he explained.

He says keeping tenants afloat is about stabilizing the entire housing system in North Dakota.

Here are some of the raw numbers I got from North Dakota courts.

There were actually fewer evictions overall in the state, in July of 2020 than July 2019. Keep in mind, this doesn’t count dismissed cases that may have come back up later. We also wanted to compare April from 2019 to 2020 because for most of the month of April, eviction hearings were suspended.

But, at the end of the day, there is a heightened number of people at risk of losing homes as the pandemic continues, and we won’t see the full count of displaced families for months to come.

So the question remains– if you’re facing eviction– what’s the next step?
What are your options?

We sat down with Executive Director, Richard LeMay, of Legal Services of North Dakota, a non-profit that provides free legal help for those in need.

He says their calls for housing assistance are up by about 40 percent, which he says, is pretty significant.

LeMay says, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of defense for eviction when rent isn’t paid. But these cases have to be handled in court, so he says the best thing you can do as a tenant is to show up for that court date. LeMay says, many people don’t.

“I’m sure it’s, you know, ‘I don’t really have any hope; I can’t pay the rent. I can’t pay last month’s rent, I can’t pay this month’s rent. I mean, why am I going to go the hearing and just be embarrassed’. And, in this kind of a situation, it’s nobody’s fault,” he explained.

LeMay also emphasizes that Legal Services is available 24 hours a day to help you through this type of situation.

He also recommends that anyone who’s struggling financially to apply for the Rent Bridge Program.

Here’s a link to the Rent Bridge information and application.