The expiration of an eviction moratorium over the weekend left Missoula housing officials bracing for the potential fallout and working to direct tenants and landlords to a state program that could help cover rent.

Congress over the weekend failed to extend the federal eviction moratorium, which officially expired on Saturday. Since its inception, estimates suggest it helped millions of Americans keep a roof over the head during the pandemic and its related economic impacts.

Montana James, deputy director with the Office of Community Development in Missoula, said the concerns include the potential health impacts of eviction with the emergence of the Delta variant.

“With the Delta variant cases rising, the eviction moratorium was incredibly important to maintain housing stability for a lot of residents across the country, and Missoula is no exception,” said James. “It's been a concern throughout the pandemic because we know that any displacement can put folks at a higher risk of contracting Covid.”

Concerns from a housing perspective are also high. According to a self-reported Census survey, around 9.1% of renters in Missoula County said they were behind on rent as of July, or were concerned about losing housing.

While the Eviction Lab doesn't track cases in Montana, it reports that landlords filed for more than 7,200 evictions last week in six states and 31 cities tracked by the organization.

“We want to do anything we can to prevent displacement or eviction because it has so many downstream effects for individuals to have that on their rental record, especially in a market as competitive and tight as our market is right now,” said James.

James said the City of Missoula cannot enact its own eviction moratorium under state law. However, it is working closely with Montana Housing at the state level. It administers all of the emergency rental assistance made available to the state by the federal government.

James said the fund still has money available.

“It's an important tool to get folks connected to,” said James. “They can also administer them directly to landlords. Property managers and landlords in the community who are dealing with residents facing eviction can apply for the funds themselves to pay for the back rent and not proceed with eviction.”

Montana James, deputy director of Missoula's Office of Community Development.
Montana James, deputy director of Missoula's Office of Community Development.

According to the most recent quarterly report produced by Sterling Commercial Real Estate in Missoula, the city's vacancy rate for apartments had fallen to a scant 0.38%. A healthy market has a vacancy rate of around 5%, according to the firm.

Given the lack of rental options, James said lifting the eviction moratorium only adds more challenges to the city's efforts to address housing.

“Everything about this market is a challenge for our housing efforts, which envisions a city where residents are stably housed and not facing eviction,” said James. “That's gotten incredibly challenging over the past two years as the vacancy rate drops and home prices get increasingly expensive. We know we have to build inventory, get units on the ground and beef up our programs and services for folks who are struggling.”

More than 6 million American households were behind on rent at the end of March, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That translates to roughly 3.6 million people facing eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.