Rental Assistance Stunted by Connection Gap in ND
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
BISMARCK, N.D. -- A federal eviction moratorium ends July 31, but states like North Dakota are still flush with emergency rental assistance tied to federal relief packages.
Aid groups and the state are ramping up efforts to reach anyone who might be having access issues.
This year alone, North Dakota has received $352 million from the federal government to distribute to people behind on their rent. But so far, a little more than $3 million has been used.
Rich LeMay, executive director for Legal Services of North Dakota, said there appears to be a disconnect in reaching some populations.
"We're finding people that are contacting us, haven't heard anything about rent help," LeMay explained. "To me, that speaks that there is a serious problem."
He noted lack of internet connections, email addresses or cell-phone minutes are likely factors.
The Department of Human Services cites having to wait for the Legislature to sign off on spending the aid. It's working with local agencies to set up application counseling services.
The Center for Public Integrity has reported that nationwide, a significant portion of CARES Act money last year didn't make it to renters or landlords in need.
Nikki Aden, housing stability administrator for the North Dakota Department of Human Services, said multiple factors are to blame for the federal funding still going largely unused, but agreed underserved areas face barriers in the application process.
"Folks that did struggle sometimes with getting assistance to upload documents, or turn documents to PDFs or pictures," Aden observed.
In addition to providing specialized counseling in the coming weeks, Aden pointed out they also plan to streamline the web portal to apply for aid.
With the federal eviction moratorium fast approaching, LeMay would like to see a greater sense of urgency.
"This needs to really be put in full swing if we're going to actually avoid people being evicted," LeMay urged.
He added Legal Services is devoting the bulk of its resources to connecting people with assistance or help with applications. In the past year, it has seen a 15% increase in requests for help with housing issues.
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