Foreclosure, eviction ban needed to avoid surge in homelessness, ND nonprofits tell governor
FARGO — Area nonprofit groups called on North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum Monday morning, March 30, to issue an executive order temporarily barring foreclosures and evictions in the state and to keep the moratorium in place for 90 days past the date the coronavirus crisis is declared over.
"What's been done so far is not enough," said Dane DeKrey, speaking for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota.
Speaking at an afternoon news briefing, Burgum said the request for moratoriums had come through loud and clear, but he said his office was still weighing what steps to take, given that both the state and federal governments have taken action in that area to provide relief to people living in low-income housing and therefore likely the most in need.
Also, Burgum said, the recently approved federal relief package may leave people in better financial shape than they realize. Issuing a broad statewide order now dealing with evictions and foreclosures could be "creating a bigger problem than we'd be fixing," he said.
For many North Dakotans, the problem of how to make house or rent payments is a big one, according to DeKrey, who cited jobless figures from Job Service North Dakota that he said showed that between March 16 and March 27 nearly 19,000 people filed for unemployment benefits, a number he said was close to the total number of claims filed in North Dakota during all of 2019.
Burgum put a finer point on jobless numbers at his afternoon briefing, stating that the number of unemployment claims filed over the last 12 days ending on Monday was 20,916, eclipsing the approximately 20,500 claims filed during all of last year.
DeKrey and others who spoke during a Monday morning teleconference said many people in North Dakota simply won't be able to make their mortgage or rent payments for the month of April and beyond.
Michelle Rydz, executive director of the High Plains Fair Housing Center in Grand Forks, said a federal order stopping evictions and foreclosures involving federally backed mortgages and rents doesn't apply to all housing situations in North Dakota.
She also said a move by the North Dakota Supreme Court to halt eviction proceedings does not prevent eviction notices from being issued, and she said such notices are still going out.
"These soft evictions quickly lead to homelessness or doubling up, with family moving in with family," Rydz said, adding that her agency recently heard from a mother of two who lost her job at a restaurant and was worried about making April rent.
Rydz said the woman, who lives in the Devils Lake area, wanted to know if the federal measures aimed at easing eviction fears applied to her.
They don't, she said.
"These are tenants who have always paid rent on time, but do not have the reserves to weather this sudden crisis," Rydz said.
Other groups calling for action by Burgum Monday included North Dakota United, the union representing teachers and other public workers in the state, and the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition to End Homelessness.
Following their teleconference, representatives of the nonprofit groups emailed their concerns to Burgum, stating the urgency of the situation "cannot be overstated."
"We want to ensure implementation of policies like a rent moratorium and freeze on foreclosures on residential property that will limit the threats presented by this public health crisis," the letter to Burgum said. "This is the right thing to do and would be a vital tool to keep North Dakotans in their homes and to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19 in our state."
In addition to asking for moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, the groups asked Burgum for a moratorium on any late fees for nonpayment and they asked that landlords and lenders be directed not to report nonpayments to credit agencies for the duration of the executive order, which they asked be kept in place for 90 days beyond the point the crisis is declared over.
The letter from the nonprofit groups follows a similar letter sent to Burgum last week by Rep. Mary Schneider, D-Fargo, who asked for an executive order temporarily halting evictions, foreclosures, utility shut-offs and related late fees and interest.
Although he refrained from issuing any executive orders Monday dealing with foreclosures and evictions, Burgum said officials were continuing to study what the need may be and whether any specific areas can be targeted.
"I've gotten more emails on this topic than any other single one," Burgum said. "We hear you, but we're trying to sift through it."
In a statement released following Burgum's afternoon briefing, the Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party said the governor's response was out of touch with working families suddenly left without paychecks.
Without a moratorium on evictions, rental fees, and foreclosures, some landlords will begin issuing three-day notices that will convince some tenants to leave their homes without anywhere to go, the Dem-NPL statement said.
"At best, late fees will pile up that could set them back for years. The governor, who is a landlord himself, just told North Dakotans he has no understanding of the challenges they’re facing," said Kylie Oversen, Dem-NPL chairwoman.