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ND Opts to Return Much of Federal Rent-Relief Funding

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Friday, January 21, 2022   

North Dakota has returned a significant portion of the rental assistance provided by the federal government in the pandemic, and groups working closely with struggling households fear the state is letting much-needed aid go to waste.

The state spent roughly $15 million of the aid through its Rent Help program after policymakers moved to keep people from being evicted during the crisis.

But North Dakota has now sent back about $150 million, citing a lack of flexibility in meeting spending guidelines.

Terry Hanson, executive director of the Grand Forks Housing Authority, is among those who say it has been hard for renters to take advantage of the aid.

"And I think that the state is perhaps trying too hard to document whether or not the funds are needed," Hanson asserted.

He also feels there was not enough outreach, although he noted the state has taken recent steps to boost the flow of aid.

Hanson noted even though a lot of money was left, not everyone who needs it is being reached. He pointed to places like Grand Forks, with a poverty level nearing 20%. North Dakota officials argued the treasury required unspent money to be returned, so it can go to other states that need it more.

According to the latest Census Household Pulse Survey, 44% of North Dakota respondents said they are likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. Hanson emphasized it is important for the state to remember the relief can be used by applicants in different ways.

"It doesn't have to just cover rent that's not paid," Hanson stressed. "If I was an applicant today, I could say I need help paying the next 12 months' rent."

North Dakota's rental-aid program also faced backlash for getting money to some households after they were evicted. Hanson acknowledged it speaks to the state being unprepared for the rollout, and failing to recognize the need.

Slow distribution of federal pandemic rental relief has been reported in many other states. North Dakota said it still has resources to support housing stability for an estimated 15,000 renters over the next couple of years.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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