Big Sky Connection  Housing prices are rising in Montana, leading to an affordability crisis, but help is available, especially for people facing eviction. Comments from Andrea (on-DRAY-uh) Davis, executive director, Homeword in Missoula; and Amy Hall, attorney, Montana Legal Services Association.

Click on the image above for the audio. With the pandemic inspiring people to move to Montana, the state can't build fast enough to keep up. (Jim/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

June 7, 2022

Montanans across the state are facing a housing crisis. Prices both to rent and buy a place to live have skyrocketed, leaving vacancy rates extremely low in cities big and small.

Homeword in Missoula is a housing organization which has built affordable properties for about 2,000 people since 1994. It is also a housing counseling agency and provides education for first-time homebuyers.

Andrea Davis, the group's executive director said the housing market is making it hard, even for businesses.

"We have a lot of businesses that are either expanding or new businesses that are relocating here," Davis pointed out. "But they are absolutely stymied by the ability for their workers to find homes."

Montana saw an influx of people at the beginning of the pandemic, inspiring "Zoom towns" where people could work remotely and be near the state's many outdoor activities.

Amy Hall, housing services attorney for the Montana Legal Services Association, said the lack of housing also means a rise in evictions. Her organization partnered with the Montana Department of Commerce to create the Montana Eviction Intervention Project, which uses federal CARES Act funding.

"We assist renters by defending them in eviction-court actions filed by landlords," Hall explained. "And in helping those tenants by providing what we call housing-stability services."

Hall noted there is assistance available immediately for people facing an eminent eviction through Montana Emergency Rental Assistance (MERA) dollars, which can also help landlords.

"The MERA funds are a good deal for tenants because it helps them avoid eviction," Hall emphasized. "And it's a good deal for landlords because they're able to recoup the funds that the tenant's not able to pay themselves."

Hall added unfortunately, there are barriers to stopping an eviction, and once a person or family is evicted, it can make it harder to find a new place to live.

Davis stressed there are ways Montana can help in this crisis, such as ensuring more housing density rather than single-family homes in cities. She also pointed out the federal government has proved it can provide emergency funding and should continue it by providing more in rental subsidies.

"When people have rental assistance, and they're able to make their rents, then they're able to do all the other things in their lives, including contribute to society economically, right?" Davis asked. "They can afford their job, they can afford to get their kiddos to child care, to school, all of the above."