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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Millions Of Dollars In Rental Assistance Still Available In Montana

Congress earlier this year allocated $200 million to help Montana renters behind on rent, but only a fraction of that money has made its way to landlords in the state.

According to numbers provided by the Montana Department of Commerce, a little more than $16 million of emergency rental assistance has supported roughly 3,000 households, and the commerce department still has more applications to process.

But Cheryl Cohen, the department’s housing’s division administrator, says all $200 million allocated to Montana is unlikely to be utilized because it might outstrip the need in the state.

The National Coalition of State Housing Agencies released a report last year, estimating that 10,000 evictions could be filed in Montana by January this year. It said that Montana renters could owe up to $51 million.

Based on that information, Cohen says the commerce department estimates up to 8,000 Montanans could be eligible and apply for rental assistance before the funding expires in September of next year.

So far, she says, the commerce department has received 4,995 applications. Cohen says processing an application takes about 20 days, depending on whether the department needs to follow up with renters or landlords to gather missing information.

Amy Hall is a housing attorney with the Montana Legal Services Association, a nonprofit that provides information and advice for people dealing with civil court issues in Montana. She says tenants should take advantage of this money if they can’t pay rent.

“They can apply for the state assistance, and hopefully the landlord will get paid through that program.”

MTPR did not hear back from the Montana Landlords Association by deadline. However, the association suggests on its website that landlords should encourage tenants to apply for rental assistance before starting a formal eviction process.

Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a moratorium on evictions in counties with “substantial” and “high” spread of coronavirus. As of Thursday, that included all but seven counties in Montana.

Freddy Monares was a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio.
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