Good health starts with stable housing – at least that’s what Gov. Doug Burgum said in a news conference last month.
But his actions since then suggest he thinks otherwise.
As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continues to rise, and more and more North Dakotans are being laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19, it’s becoming evident that this public health emergency is an economic emergency as well.
That’s why the ACLU of North Dakota, along with several other non-profit organizations throughout the state, urged Gov. Burgum to issue a temporary moratorium on evictions last month. This would allow people to remain stably housed as they safeguard their health, the health of their families and the health of other North Dakotans.
But Burgum refused.
An eviction moratorium wasn’t necessary, he said, because the North Dakota Supreme Court had banned eviction hearings because of the COVID-19 crisis and North Dakotans involuntarily out of work would soon be seeing government money in the form of stimulus checks and an increase in unemployment benefits.
For many North Dakotans, however, the checks aren’t coming fast enough. And for some they aren’t coming at all. College students who are still claimed as dependents by their parents, for example, will not get the one-time $1,200 federal stimulus check. People who get paid in cash or who don’t understand or can’t navigate the unemployment process due to language barriers or disabilities won’t receive state unemployment checks or the fed’s $600 a week unemployment “bonus,” either.
And now, on top of all that, the North Dakota Supreme Court has lifted its ban on eviction hearings.
So what are people in danger of losing their housing supposed to do?
Burgum’s solution? Talk to your landlord. An eviction notice, after all, doesn’t mean you’ll be evicted. Just try to work something out.
With all due respect, come on.
Yes, renters should talk to their landlords. Open communication is always good. But talking isn’t the solution – at least not for everybody. And that’s what we need here: a solution that’s fair and equitable for all renters – not just those lucky enough to have a merciful landlord.
North Dakota wouldn’t be the first to place a moratorium on evictions. In fact, data suggests just the opposite. Multiple other states, counties, cities and judicial districts across the country have issued directives to suspend evictions during the COVID-19 crisis.
And North Dakota’s inaction hasn’t got unnoticed. According to a Princeton University COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard, Burgum’s response – or lack thereof – ranks among the worst in the country. The study graded states for their emergency policies on eviction enforcement and court proceedings, among other things.
While rankings alone aren’t reason to change policy, they are telling. North Dakota, like South Dakota and Wyoming, scored 0 out of 5. Minnesota, on the other hand, received a score of 3.53 in part because of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order in March prohibiting landlords for from filing for evictions for the duration of the pandemic.
Safe, stable and decent housing has always been central to ensuring peoples’ health and stability. And given that the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says North Dakota shouldn’t begin to relax social distancing until mid-July, people could be out of work for a long time.
Given this timeline, North Dakota can and should do more.
Issuing a temporary eviction moratorium is the right thing for Gov. Burgum 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.
He must act before it’s too late.