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FARGO — The federal moratorium on housing evictions ends Saturday, July 31, which could mean trouble for families adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but federal funds are available to help those who are struggling.

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North Dakota officials expect to assist about 20,000 families in need of rental or utility aid, said Carmel Froemke, statewide outreach coordinator for the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, a nonprofit group contracted by the state to help with application assistance.

So far, North Dakota has only used about $4.4 million of the $352 million it's received in federal emergency rental aid through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, said Heather Steffl, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

The lifting of the federal moratorium does not affect Minnesotans because Minnesota has its own eviction moratorium that will be phased out over the next year ending June 1, 2022, according to RentHelpMN.

The RentHelpMN program has received $375 million in federal aid for Minnesota households behind on rent or for those who need help with utility bills.

Nearly 33,500 renters in Minnesota have requested about $197.8 million in rental assistance, leaving about $177 million available as of July 22, according to the Minnesota Housing dashboard's most recent data.

In North Dakota, Froemke said part of her job is to “get the money out to the people that need it."

“We’re hitting the ground running,” Froemke said, adding that about 30 counselors received training on the topic from the North Dakota Department of Human Services this summer.

So far, the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota has been helping people transition from the state's COVID-19 Emergency Rent Bridge program, launched in May 2020, to the ND Rent Help program.

To qualify, at least one member of a household must have qualified for unemployment aid or have experienced a reduction in income during the pandemic, and be behind in rent or at risk of homelessness or housing instability, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

Households with incomes below 50% of the area median income will receive priority. Renters can begin the application process online, or call their local Community Action Partnership office for help.

North Dakota has more than 117,500 rental units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Jessica Thomasson, executive policy director for family stability for the North Dakota Department of Human Services, said about 25% of renters may be struggling.

“If you look at the dollars available to the state, and we were to put them all to use we could help between 15,000 and 20,000 households,” Thomasson said.

Although eviction proceedings have been processed through the courts during the pandemic, some cases have stopped short of evicting, while others have gone through due to nonpayment or criminal matters, Thomasson said.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services is working with about 46 application counselors from multiple community-based organizations to help renters through the paper and online trails, Thomasson said.

Renters who are behind on rent or have managed to keep up but suddenly find themselves without means to continue paying, or those who have recently been affected by a sudden loss of income, can apply for rental or utility assistance, she said.

Landlords can also apply for assistance or help their tenants through the application process, Thomasson said.

“Before the pandemic, about one in three North Dakota renters paid more than 35% of their gross income for rent. The pandemic has worsened the housing cost burden for many,” Thomasson said. “The ND Rent Help program will help renters and housing providers meet immediate financial needs while also addressing underlying causes of housing instability.”

The federal moratorium first began under President Donald Trump’s administration, but ended in July 2020. Two months later the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its own eviction ban in an effort to ease economic hardships for Americans during the pandemic.

Amid objections, President Joe Biden extended the freeze in March this year, and pushed an additional $21.55 billion under the American Rescue Plan Act to go toward helping families behind on their rent, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the pandemic,” according to Census Pulse Survey data. Among 40 states there are about 6.4 million households behind on rent. The average rent debt per household is reported as $3,300.

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