The group of about 16 people began what organizers termed a “Housing Justice March” on South Fourth Street in downtown Grand Forks, at about 2 p.m. Evictions, organizers say, are set to increase in the state following the expiration of the $600-per-week federal benefit in unemployment at the end of July. The group is asking federal and state lawmakers to stop evictions and foreclosures, and reinstate that benefit.
Doug Richards, one of the march organizers, said his group has been tracking evictions in the state, and that since June, there have been more than 300 statewide.
“The statistic I’ve seen is 23,000 households in North Dakota are at risk over the next few months,” Richards told the Herald shortly before the march began. “That’s about 20% of all renters in the state.”
Data from the North Dakota court system shows evictions have been rising in recent years. On March 26, the state Supreme Court enacted a moratorium on evictions “except for good cause.” That moratorium was rescinded in late April. Since then, in Grand Forks County, about 50 evictions have taken place. For the same time period last year, about 80 people were evicted from their residences.
Will Lovelace, another organizer of the march, told the Herald that number was likely lower due to the $600 weekly unemployment benefit.
“As soon as that’s gone, it’s going to start snowballing unless we do the right thing,” Lovelace said.
Marchers made their way from South Fourth Street to DeMers Avenue, then to Town Square, chanting “What do we want?” “Housing!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” At Town Square, the group stopped to hear a speaker who said federal lawmakers need to strengthen the social safety net, as nonprofit groups don’t have the resources to fill gaps in that net.
The march continued to the district courthouse on South Fourth Street, where a letter was delivered to Northeast Central District Presiding Judge Don Hagar. A similar letter was dropped off to Grand Forks County Sheriff Andy Schneider at the sheriff’s office, where the march ended.
Those letters, which the Herald obtained beforehand, asked the elected officials to stop serving eviction notices until a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available. Referenced in the letters was the late May shooting that occurred when GFSO deputies served an eviction notice to Salamah Pendleton at a Grand Forks apartment.
GFPD Officer Cody Holte was killed in the incident, as was Lola Moore, who was in the apartment at the time. Pendleton was wounded in an exchange of gunfire that investigators said saw more than 40 rounds fired from an AK-47. Also wounded in the shooting was GFSO Cpl. Ron Nord.
“Our entire state mourned this senseless tragedy, and we fear that by creating hundreds more frightened and desperate people facing homelessness during a pandemic, we are risking more lives and endangering our communities,” the letters, which were signed by Lovelace and Richards, read. March participants were also invited to sign the letters.
The group is also asking lawmakers to stop late rent and mortgage fees, defer those payments, disallow shutting off utilities for nonpayment and paid sick leave for workers.
Similar marches were planned in other North Dakota cities, including Fargo and Bismarck, though the march there, according to a social media post, was postponed due to “conflicting actions.”