Like many states across the country, Montana is facing a housing crisis. One organization says policies in the Build Back Better Act, still in Congress, could help more people find and afford homes.
Opponents of the bill say it's too costly. But Adrienne Bombelles, senior policy analyst with the Montana Budget and Policy Center, said it includes much-needed rental assistance, through the Housing Choice Voucher program.
Under the Build Back Better plan, she said, the program could receive an additional $26 billion.
"The Housing Choice Voucher program and its expansion is going to go a long way towards helping families living in poverty," said Bombelles, "or senior citizens living on low fixed incomes and those living with disabilities afford their rent."
More than 10,500 Montanans rely on the program for rental assistance.
Thirty-six percent are people living with disabilities, 32% are older Montanans and 26% are single parents. But the average waitlist for the Housing Choice Voucher program in Montana is 25 months.
Bombelles noted that housing affordability isn't the only concern. Because the state is mostly rural, housing supply also is an issue.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Montana needs about 17,700 more homes that are affordable and available for renters with extremely low incomes.
Bombelles said housing advocates in the state see a few ways to increase the supply, such as increasing the state's investment.
"Also better leverage the federal dollars that are coming to the state, especially in the form the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program," said Bombelles. "To boost our supply, to subsidize the construction and maintenance of homes that are affordable to people living on low incomes."
The Build Back Better Act would provide $250 million to small, rural towns specifically for building more affordable housing.
While the task is great and the pandemic has made it greater, Bombelles said it's still possible to tackle.
"This problem is not insurmountable," said Bombelles. "We have solutions, and our nation is wealthy. We have the resources to create these investments for our people. It's just finding the path forward and finding the will to do these things."
Although Sen. Joe Manchin - D-W.Va. - has said he will vote no on the package, Democrats have vowed to move forward with a vote in 2022.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.