The Montana Department of Commerce reported on Wednesday, that the agency has provided over $51 million in emergency rent and utility assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KGVO spoke to Cheryl Cohen, Housing Division Administrator for details on the numbers just released.

“We launched the Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program a year ago yesterday and so over the last year we've assisted more than 6,800 Montana families with $51 million in rent and utility assistance,” began Cohen. “This is for Montanans that have been experiencing financial hardships due directly, indirectly or during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are at risk of housing instability. So we're thrilled to be able to serve Montanans and help them stay in their homes.”

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Cohen said despite the fact that COVID-19 infection numbers are down substantially, the program is also helping Montana families deal with the current inflation raising prices on almost everything.

“We are experiencing hardships like the rest of the country with inflation and higher food and fuel costs,” she said. “With the expanded version of the program that we have now we can serve families that are experiencing those types of inflation and financial hardship, and we also have increased the amount of assistance we can provide for utilities, so families that have electricity and a propane bill, we can now cover up to $500 a month per eligible utility, and that's up from $300 a month.”

Since Missoula has basically no apartment or rental vacancies, Cohen said there are funds available to help families find and rent an apartment.

“We're also able to use emergency rental assistance funds for what's called housing stability services,” she said. “This could include things like housing navigation, where someone who needs assistance can meet landlords and apply for a rental units. We're working with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and our Human Resource Development Councils to provide that type of housing navigation, housing, case management and stability services. So that's definitely an option.”

Cohen provided the eligibility requirements for the emergency rent and utility assistance.

“You need to be a Montana renter,” she said. “So you need to demonstrate an obligation to pay rent. And you need to have an income level at 80 percent of median income or below, and we have a really helpful tool on our website The family just needs to put in their household size and their county to see their income eligibility, and then the family would need to have some sort of evidence of being at risk of housing instability. So this could be a three day pay or vacate notice or late rent notice or utility, a late utility bill or utility shutoff notice.”

Those facing possible eviction can click here for assistance, while information about the Emergency Rent and Utility Assistance program can be found here.

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