MANDAN, N.D. — A Fargo woman claims a nonprofit housing developer forced her out of her Mandan home after she became pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning her family of six exceeded the number of people allowed in the house.
Shukri Ahmed and High Plains Housing Center Inc. have asked a federal judge to declare Dickinson-based Affordable Housing Developers unlawfully told her to vacate her Trails West Twinhomes house in the 4500 block of 30th Avenue Northwest in Mandan.
According to a civil complaint filed with the lawsuit:
Ahmed, who moved from Seattle to Mandan in 2015 to pursue a degree in nursing, started leasing a Trails West unit in May 2017. The single mother moved in with her three children, who were all younger than 4 years old at the time.
Affordable Housing Developers received $762,000 in state grants and more than $1.1 million in low-interest federal loans to build the twinhomes, meaning the homes qualified for affordable housing tenants.
Ahmed used housing vouchers to pay rent until she received her degree and started working as a nurse sometime in 2018. She would have two more children: one in February 2019 and one in October 2020.
Both times, she submitted documentation that alerted the company her recently born children would live there.
On March 29, Affordable Housing Developers told Ahmed her three-bedroom home had a limit of five residents based on North Dakota Housing Finance Agency regulations. That meant she and her five children exceeded capacity, and she would have to vacate by April 30 or face eviction, the complaint said.
“Ahmed was upset, scared and confused,” the complaint said. “The need to relocate her young family by April 30 or face homelessness scared Ahmed.”
Ahmed told Affordable Housing Developers she was a frontline nurse who worked through the pandemic. She also said it was difficult to find a place to live in the Bismarck-Mandan area since her income was not enough to cover rent in the private market, the complaint said.
Private landlords also required proof she could earn three times the monthly rent, as well as two to three months of paystubs from the same employer, the complaint said.
Affordable Housing Developers extended Ahmed's relocation deadline to May 31 but declined to renew her lease, according to the complaint. It claimed there were numerous available apartments in the Bismarck-Mandan area, so she didn’t need to quit her job or pull her children out of school, the complaint said.
An owner cannot evict a family simply because they add children after meeting initial Housing and Urban Development requirements. If a home becomes overcrowded, housing management can move the family to a larger home.
Management also can increase rent to market value if the family refuses to move.
Ahmed asked for help through Legal Services of North Dakota, a state-run law firm that represents low-income clients. It argued the home was not overcrowded since the newborn slept in Ahmed’s room.
In response, the company said the state Housing Finance Agency does not set occupancy limits, but allowing Ahmed to stay would violate Fair Housing rules by forcing the organization to decline other applicants, the complaint said.
High Plains Housing Center, a nonprofit that fights housing discrimination in North Dakota, took over Ahmed’s fight. Federal guidance allows two individuals per bedroom, which would mean the family could stay, the nonprofit argued on Ahmed’s behalf.
“In this situation, we do feel Ms. Ahmed is being treated differently than other tenants due to her protected class of familial status,” High Plains argued. “In other words, Ms. Ahmed's family is being nonrenewed because they added another child to their family.”
Affordable Housing Developers said the federal guidance was just a guideline, the complaint said. The company “must continue to operate the property in accordance with our current policies and procedures and will not be making any changes at this time,” according to the complaint.
Ahmed got a job as a traveling nurse that would pay more but would require her to work in Fargo, the complaint said. However, she could not get two to three months of paystubs by the deadline. She had to discard much of her furniture and move to Fargo to live with a relative over the Memorial Day weekend, the complaint said.
Ahmed and High Plains filed a lawsuit last month alleging the developers violated the federal fair housing regulations because of her familial status, sent discriminatory notices to Ahmed, breached a contract and were negligent.
Affordable Housing Developers disagrees with Ahmed’s version of what happened, Executive Director Andrea Diede said in a statement. She declined to comment further due to the pending litigation.
Ahmed also declined to comment through her attorney.