Housing crisis in MT worsens, but some protections available / Public News Service

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Montananese across the state are facing a housing crisis. Prices for renting and buying a home have skyrocketed, leaving vacancy rates extremely low in cities large and small.

Homeword in Missoula is a housing organization that has built affordable properties for approximately 2,000 people since 1994. It is also a housing counseling agency and provides education for first-time home buyers.

Andrea Davis, the group’s chief executive, said the housing market is making it difficult, even for businesses.

“We have a lot of expanding businesses or new businesses moving here,” Davis pointed out. “But they are absolutely stymied by the ability of their workers to find homes.”

Montana saw an influx of people early in the pandemic, inspiring “Zoom cities” where people could work remotely and be close to the state’s many outdoor activities.

Amy Hall, housing services attorney for the Montana Legal Services Association, said the lack of housing also means an increase in evictions. His organization partnered with the Montana Department of Commerce to create the Montana Eviction Intervention Projectwhich uses federal funding from the CARES Act.

“We help tenants by defending them in eviction lawsuits brought by landlords,” Hall explained. “And helping those tenants by providing what we call housing stability services.”

Hall noted that there is assistance available immediately for those facing imminent eviction via Montana Emergency Rental Assistance (MERA) dollars, which can also help homeowners.

“MERA funds are a great deal for tenants because they help them avoid eviction,” Hall pointed out. “And it’s a good deal for landlords because they can recover funds that the tenant is unable to pay on their own.”

Hall added that, unfortunately, there are barriers to stopping an eviction, and once a person or family is evicted, it can be more difficult to find new housing.

Davis pointed out that there are ways Montana can help in this crisis, such as ensuring greater housing density rather than single-family homes in cities. She also pointed out that the federal government has proven it can provide emergency funding and should follow through with providing more housing subsidies.

“When people are on housing assistance and are able to pay their rent, they can do all the other things in their lives, including contributing economically to society, right?” Davis asked. “They can afford their jobs, they can afford to send their kids to daycare, to school, all of the above.”

Disclosure: The Montana Legal Services Association contributes to our fund for reporting on civil rights, human rights/racial justice, poverty issues, and social justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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