High Plains Fair Housing Center has received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue servicing fair housing needs in the state.

High Plains Fair Housing will get $360,000 per year for three years from HUD. The funds will be used to cover operating, advocating, education and enforcement expenses for the nonprofit, at its locations in Grand Forks and Bismarck. In 2019, the group saw a 36% increase in fair housing intakes from the previous year, and, as in other years, the bulk of those clients were people with disabilities who had issues with their landlords.

“Usually it's denial of reasonable accommodation, so that could be something like a parking space, or the big one is emotional support animals,” said Michelle Rydz, executive director of the center.

Ramps, more accessible door handles and swapping out carpet for tile to better accommodate a wheelchair, are other issues that the center encounters.

In 2019 High Plains had a total of 368 intakes, with 180 of those related to fair housing issues. 164 intakes were non-fair housing related landlord/tenant issues, and the remainder were people asking fair housing questions.

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“I think there’s a great need for our organization,” Rydz said.

The center assists those who have encountered discrimination in housing transactions and works with a client to resolve an issue with a landlord, or file a complaint with the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights. Last year, the center helped 37 clients receive reasonable accommodation or modifications to their housing.

One such case involved a person with mobility impairments who was unable to get into his bathtub. The property manager refused to install a walk-in tub, citing financial hardship. High Plains filed a complaint with the N.D. Department of Labor, and HUD ultimately became involved, as the property manager received federal funding. The complaint resulted in the tenant getting a new bathtub.

On the enforcement side, the center carries out what is called testing, an almost secret-shopper type experience. If a client is denied housing, for example,due to being on public assistance, the center can send testers who also say they also are on assistance. A denial of the tester can add weight to a client’s complaint.

Still, according to Rydz, the majority of people who experience housing discrimination don’t file a complaint, either because they don’t believe it will help or they are not aware of their rights. High Plains works to educate tenants and housing providers through training sessions in equal opportunity housing, and compliance with fair housing laws.

“Our goal is to reach out to people who maybe don’t have faith in the system that their discrimination complaint will be heard,” Rydz said. “We’re here to help you exercise your rights so everybody can live where they want to live, within their means, free of discrimination.”