The Montana Department of Commerce announced today that more than $51 million in rent and utility assistance has been distributed to help Montanans who have experienced financial hardship directly or indirectly or during the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of housing instability. The federally funded assistance is provided by the Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program (MERA) in the agency’s Montana Housing Division.
“Having a stable place to live and call home is foundational for families and individuals to succeed and retain vital connections to their communities,” said Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman. “The MERA program has helped thousands of our Montana friends and neighbors remain in their homes and get back on their feet, and we are privileged to serve our fellow Montanans requiring this support. I am grateful for the diligence of our staff to make that a reality and for reaching this significant milestone,” Osterman added.
MERA provides financial support to help eligible Montanans pay future and past due rent up to a monthly maximum of $2,200. Additionally, it provides for up to $500 per month for past due and future utilities, including gas and electric, plus $50 per month for internet. The program can also provide assistance for past due late rent fees, unpaid rental security deposits, and rental application fees. Eligible households can receive assistance for rent and utility bills dating back to April 1, 2020.
"This program has helped us to keep from being homeless while we try to regain our financial stability in this uncertain and difficult time. It has been a true blessing, and we probably would have lost our rental if we hadn't found the program," said a Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program recipient.
The program serves Montanans whose gross household income does not exceed 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Applicants can check their income eligibility using Montana Housing’s online tool. Other eligibility conditions include:
One or more individuals in the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due directly, indirectly, or during the COVID-19 emergency.
The household can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability which may include a past due rent notice, eviction notice, or unsafe or unhealthy living conditions.
“Over the last year, the program has assisted more than 6,880 Montanans with more than $51.3 million total funding awarded, averaging over $7,450 per household. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 applications submitted for assistance under eligibility review,” said Montana Housing Division Administrator Cheryl Cohen. “Our MERA team at Montana Housing, along with our statewide housing partners, look forward to continuing to assist Montanans who may be facing housing instability,” Cohen added.
The MERA program, which launched on April 5, 2021, is funded through the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and American Rescue Plan Act, appropriated to Montana Housing, a division of the Montana Department of Commerce, by the 2021 Montana Legislature through HB 3, HB 630, and HB 632.
The Department of Commerce has partnered with the Montana Legal Services Association on the Montana Eviction Intervention Project, a program that provides civil legal assistance for Montanans facing evictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, visit WWW.MTLSA.ORG or call 1-800-666-6899.
For more information about the program and how to apply, visit HOUSING.MT.GOV.