The new Emergency Rental Assistance funding package can help address Montana’s housing needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Montana has the opportunity to deploy this federal rental assistance to keep families stably housing right now and to promote long-term housing stability. This report provides recommendations that state agencies should consider in administering these funds.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 22,000 Montana households living in poverty were spending more than half of their limited income on rent and utilities. Pandemic-induced finance stress places renters and homeowners already struggling to pay the bills in an even more precarious position. An estimated 10,000-30,000 Montana households face difficulty paying their monthly rent. As many as 10,000 households risk eviction when the federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of March.
Montana is set to receive significant federal funding to support renters and landlords during this difficult time. On December 27, 2020, Congress passed the “Consolidated Appropriations Act” which included the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.” Under this Act, Montana will receive an allocation of $200 million in Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) to be used for rent and utility payments for renter households with incomes below 80 percent of their county’s Average Median Income and meet certain conditions. Additionally, 10 percent of the total deployed funds may be used to cover administrative costs incurred to develop a new program and application review process, as well as cover “case management” services that promote long-term housing stability. It is critical Montana deploy this money quickly and efficiently to reach as many Montana families as possible.
Montana can learn from past experiences in addressing barriers to accessing support and getting funding into the hands of renters and landlords quickly. In May 2020, Montana launched its Emergency Housing Assistance Program, funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security (CARES) Act, one of just a handful of states to utilize COVID relief funds to support renters during the pandemic. The program distributed $8.4 million to Montanans who demonstrated having trouble paying rent or making mortgage payments due to job loss or loss of income due to the pandemic. Last year, about 2,500 renters and homeowners received an average of $3,400 each for a period of 4 months. According to the Department of Commerce, the Emergency Housing Assistance Program faced significant challenges getting payments out the door, including burdensome application requirements for tenants seeking assistance, limited marketing and outreach, and long application and payment approval timelines.,
The following steps will more effectively and efficiently get its total federal share of Emergency Rental Assistance out the door to the households that need this assistance right now to maintain their housing.
While federal requirements set eligibility and reporting requirements, the ERA allows more flexibility in how state and local governments can administer these rental assistance dollars and how we define which expenses related to housing would be covered. Montana can create a program that works and provides maximum support for families across the state. In doing so, Montana should:
Montana needs to use its entire $200 million in Emergency Rental Assistance funds and immediately implement this program. Too many households are struggling to keep up with rent and utility payments, and face eviction and homelessness as a consequence of the pandemic. This crisis will only get worse the longer it goes unaddressed. Montana has until September 2021 to spend or obligate its $200 million, after which any funds not spent or obligated would be redistributed to other states. There is no time to waste.
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.