Under 2020 CARES Act, the state of Montana received around $200 million for emergency rental assistance, followed by another $152 million under the second CARES Act passed in 2021.
On Wednesday, Cheryl Cohen, executive director of Montana Housing at the Department of Commerce, joined Missoula housing advocates and the City Council to say funding is still available to help those facing eviction or utility shut-offs due to Covid-related issues.
“We really want to maximize the use of these funds,” said Cohen. “We strove to make the process as simple as we could.”
The Centers for Disease Control this week extended a modified moratorium on evictions due to Covid-related issues until October. But with the future of the program unclear, local and state officials have pushed to promote the federal assistance that’s available to help pay arrears for rent, utilities and Internet dating back to April 2020.
Under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the state can support renters who earn up to 80% of the area median income for 12 months. If there’s a demonstrated need, Cohen said, assistance can be extended to 15 months.
She said the state can provide up to $2,200 a month for rent and $300 for utilities.
“We don’t ask for a significant amount of documentation. They’re really just attesting to their financial hardship,” she said. “We do ask for income documentation to verify they meet the 80% income requirements. We also require evidence of their housing instability.”
That could come in the form a notice of late payment or utility shut off, she said.
With funding from the two CARES acts, the state awarded $8.4 million over roughly 8 months in 2020. Assistance went to roughly 2,500 households for an average award of around $3,390 per household, according to Cohen.
The state agency then made changes to the program and has seen greater results, with nearly $12 million awarded to 2,300 households in just 16 weeks this year. The average award boils down to around $5,632 per household, she said.
Residents in Missoula County have received around $2.8 million in assistance, Cohen added.
“That’s just behind Yellowstone County in the amount of funds that have been distributed,” she said. “To date, statewide we’ve gotten around 4,500 applications and we have around 850 under review. We haven’t yet seen a huge uptick in applications following the three-day eviction suspension.”
Cohen said the state also is working with Montana Legal Services on the Montana Eviction Intervention Project, where attorneys work pro-bono to serve households at risk of eviction due a Covid-related impact.
“I know the majority of the clients they have been serving are in the Yellowstone and Missoula county areas,” she said. “We’re already in conversations with Montana Legal Services in extending that contract with the emergency assistance funds we have available.”
Missoula housing officials this week have expressed concern that ending the moratorium on evictions could lead to the displacement of some residents, and at a time when Covid cases are climbing and the city is struggling to shelter its homeless population.
With help available, the city on Wednesday pledged its support in helping connect those in need and who qualify to the state program.
“We have resources in the state to help these people out with those rent and utility obligations in arrears,” said City Council member Bryan von Lossberg. “We’re in a situation where we have the resources, but we need to connect the people to them.”