After 102 years of service to North Dakota communities, Lutheran Social Services has had to file for bankruptcy. As reported in the Herald (May 19, 2021), overwhelming debt related to providing affordable housing in rural areas is the underlying cause. Evidently their over-extension was in response to the Oil Patch housing shortage during the Bakken boom.
This sad outcome points to the fact that it is unreasonable to expect charitable organizations to compensate for gross inequities in housing caused by market forces. It is time for us as a nation to face up to the actual costs visited upon communities and individuals.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 24% of North Dakota’s rental households are considered extremely low income, that is, earning no more than $26,670 for a family of four. Based on HUD’s Fair Market Rent, it takes $33,647 in North Dakota to afford a two-bedroom rental home. At the same time, we have a shortage of 16,313 affordable rental homes for them. Fifty-eight percent of extremely low income renter households are severely cost-burdened: they do not have enough money to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, even the 48% who usually work more than 30 hours per week.
There are public policy actions which can help, such as permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit (CTC). According to a study conducted by Columbia University, North Dakota’s share of children left out of receiving the full Child Tax Credit is 21%; that is, their family’s income is deemed too low for them to qualify for the tax credit, yet they are the most needful of all. Impoverished children need this support so they can be well nourished and have a roof over their head. The Earned Income Tax Credit also provides necessary funds for families.
Congress will decide whether to make the expansion of the CTC and EITC permanent, not just a stopgap to address the effects of the coronavirus. I ask our members of Congress, Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, to favor this expansion, for the sake of our most vulnerable children.
Kathleen Ness, Grand Forks