North Dakota’s temporary, pandemic emergency rent and utility assistance program, ND Rent Help, has reached a utilization milestone one year earlier than projected, having provided housing stability to over 17,500 lower-income households.
Working with local community partners across the state, the federally funded program has also helped reconnect over 2,700 households experiencing homelessness to housing since the launch of its housing stability project in September 2021.
“I’m so grateful for the North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS) team members and our community partners who worked so hard to meet unprecedented housing needs, which were amplified by the pandemic,” said Human Services Executive Director Jessica Thomasson. “Stable housing is the foundation of household well-being, and this program has helped tens of thousands of North Dakotans stay housed and recover from the challenges they experienced over the last couple years.”
In addition to providing rent and utility relief to many of the lowest income households in the state, the ND Rent Help program has made it possible for thousands of adults and children experiencing homelessness to access housing and other supportive services, while also providing stability to the state’s rental housing market, Thomasson said.
North Dakota is one of a few states still operating a statewide emergency rental assistance program. Many states have already exhausted their federal emergency rental assistance funding and ended their programs.
As North Dakota continues to move beyond the pandemic, HHS is ramping down general rent assistance and transitioning to a more targeted housing stability program that prioritizes and serves households experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness. After Monday, May 1, HHS will only accept new or pending applications on the portal at hhs.nd.gov/applyforhelp/rent-help from North Dakota households experiencing or facing imminent homelessness.
To date, ND Rent Help has provided over $112 million in direct rent and utility assistance, which has been paid to 2,362 housing providers and 146 utilities on behalf of qualifying participating renters in 52 of the state’s 53 counties.
HHS Housing Stability Director Nikki Aden said, “We have distributed these pandemic relief dollars to people living in communities across the state in small sums that have made a big difference in people’s lives.”
To date, the program has made more than 225,000 individual payments at an average amount of $682 per month for rent and $137 for utilities.
Thomasson said HHS still has approximately $40 million in direct assistance available to expend, much of which has already been obligated to more than 5,000 current program participants.
“We believe this program successfully put federal funding to work to keep people adversely affected by the pandemic in their homes and prevented further crisis-related assistance needs,” she said.
ND Rent Help’s housing stabilization program, which primarily serves people experiencing homelessness, will continue beyond the sunset of ND Rent Help’s more broadly defined rent/utility assistance program.
HHS, the human service zones and other community partner agencies will continue to assist North Dakotans struggling to afford housing by connecting them to traditional financial assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, WIC, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, child care assistance and other local programs and resources such as traditional low-income housing resources. These include Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly known as Section 8, and Department of Housing and Urban Development and USDA Rural Housing Service project-based vouchers.
North Dakota lawmakers approved using federal pandemic relief funds, called ERA funds, in the final days of the 2021 legislative session to provide rent and utility relief to lower-income households that experienced the greatest financial impact from the pandemic. States received federal ERA funding in two installments, ERA1 and ERA2, and used funding to create or expand emergency rent assistance programs, including developing secure application portals and eligibility determination and reporting systems meeting federal Treasury Department requirements and spending targets and timelines.
A number of pandemic-era programs have already ended in North Dakota, such as federally backed unemployment benefits and emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotments. Medicaid continuous enrollment ended March 31; several child care-related initiatives will be sunsetting later in 2023 as well.