Montana is an early leader in using Coronavirus Relief Fund resources to provide emergency rent assistance for renters and homeowners struggling to meet housing costs during the pandemic. The Emergency Housing Assistance program now provides rent, security deposit, and mortgage payment support for Montanans who have suffered a loss in household income as a result of COVID-19. The $50 million might expand, as only a small portion of the state’s overall Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation is currently included.
The housing assistance can address arrears back to April and cover the difference between 30% of a household’s current income and the amount of monthly rent up to $2,000. Initial grants will cover two months of housing costs, with an opportunity for recipients to apply for continued assistance. Payments will be distributed directly to the landlord, property owner, or mortgage servicer. Owners of manufactured housing or mobile homes will be able to access emergency rent assistance to help pay lot rent, which is important in Montana where this type of housing is common for lower-income households. Income eligibility for housing assistance varies by family size, with income caps ranging from $75,000 to $125,000.
Renters with income-based federal assistance such as public housing or Housing Choice Vouchers will not be eligible for the program. Instead, public housing agencies (PHAs) in Montana have expedited income recertifications as a result of COVID-19 to avoid rent arrears among the households they serve.
The Emergency Housing Assistance program was established recently by Montana Housing using surplus Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) funds. Coronavirus Relief Fund resources will bolster this new emergency grant infrastructure. The additional $50 million comes in response to recommendations from Governor Steve Bullock’s (D) Coronavirus Relief Fund Advisory Council. The 20-person council did not include housing advocates, but the public participation process enabled 26 housing organizations to provide detailed information on the urgent need for housing assistance to prevent a wave of evictions and foreclosures. The Montana Housing Coalition, an NLIHC member, was essential in mobilizing feedback to guide the council’s recommendations.
The Coronavirus Relief Fund spending announced on May 7 accounts for only a fraction of the resources allocated to Montana. Affordable housing advocates in the state are eager to see more resources for housing assistance as many households will require ongoing assistance while they recover from lost income and strive to find new employment.
“We are grateful for the leadership provided by Governor Bullock,” said Sheila Rice, a Montana Housing Coalition board member. “Housing assistance payments are needed immediately to stabilize struggling Montanans, and the rapid deployment of these resources helps us get a strong start on meeting the need.”
For more information on advocacy to expand housing assistance resources in Montana, contact Sheila Rice at [email protected]