FARGO — Representatives of area faith groups and nonprofit organizations on Tuesday, March 31, were calling for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum to institute a temporary moratorium on foreclosures and evictions until people financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak can get back on their feet.
Such a step would be the most simple and humane thing to do at this time, said Barry Nelson, an organizer with the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition who joined others at a virtual news conference Tuesday. Participants called on Burgum to issue an executive order imposing moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, as well as on late fees and other penalties connected to not paying rents or mortgages.
The sentiments were included in a letter sent to Burgum by a coalition of nonprofit groups on Monday, with the letter also urging that such moratoriums be in effect for 90 days beyond the point the present crisis is declared over.
Burgum said at his daily news briefing Monday that the subject had generated more emails to his office than any other topic at this critical time.. He said he was mulling what steps to take, if any, and if such a measure was not carefully considered, implementing it could cause more problems than it solved.
Avery Martin, pastor at Canaan Moravian Church in Davenport, and NDHRC board member, said many families in North Dakota live from paycheck to paycheck and with so many people losing jobs many no longer have that income.
"We cannot wait," Avery said, referring to the call for moratoriums.
Avery added that steps taken by the state and federal governments to provide financial assistance to families and individuals could end up being "too little, too late."
Addressing worries that moratoriums might invite people to skip paying rent even if they can afford to pay it, Nelson said as a rule North Dakotans pay their rent.
"People aren't looking for a free pass," he said.
Others who spoke during Tuesday's virtual news conference included Joe Larson, pastor of the St. Mark's Lutheran congregation in Fargo.
Larson referred to Scripture that spoke of the responsibility of people to care for the vulnerable, and he reminded his audience that Jesus closely aligned himself with people on the margins of society.
"We will make it through this crisis only, I think, if we are kind to one another," he said.
He noted that his congregation has been paying rent to hold services at Temple Beth El synagogue in Fargo, and the synagogue's board recently decided it would not require St. Mark's to pay rent for the month of April.
"They did this as a gesture of goodwill to help us make it through this crisis," Larson said.
Nelson and others at Tuesday's news conference gave Burgum high marks for his handling of the crisis and the transparency with which he has been informing state residents of what is going on.
But they said moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions should be part of the response and they encouraged members of the public to continue calling and writing to Burgum's office to advocate for them.
"This (crisis) is incredibly unprecedented," said Andrea Olson, executive director of the North Dakota Community Action Partnership.