Housing vouchers helpful but may not cover full rent for those in need
It’s no surprise that finding housing in Gallatin County can be a struggle. It can be more of a struggle when you have some income but can’t meet that gap. As rents rise and more people move to the Valley, getting Section 8 housing help can still be a struggle for some residents.
“In February 2021, in the middle of COVID, in the middle of ice, subzero, and snow on the ground, my owner of my condo apartment that I’d been in for four years decided to sell. And there were no rentals,” says Livingston resident Barbara Lewis.
Lewis has lived in Livingston for 15 years, and for more than a decade she has relied on help from HRDC for help to pay rent.
“To be helpful with people and just cheerful. And because I’m here and there’s nowhere else to go,” says Lewis.
Now she lives at the Livingston Senior Center, but it didn’t come without uncertainty at first. Many who try to get Section 8 often wait for years.
“I was just used to being on a list forever. So, I mean, and lo and behold, my number came up,” says Lewis.
Like hundreds of families across southwest Montana, Lewis gets help from housing vouchers, also known as Section 8, through the Montana Department of Commerce.
“People drop their jaw when they hear I pay $354 but I’m only making $1000 a month,” says Lewis.
“While folks are on the voucher, they pay 30% of their income towards rent. It’s great, but it’s not an immediate relief,” says Hanah Altman, HRDC Housing Support Services Director.
Renters who receive assistance can be on the program for as long as needed, but if they make enough money they can get off.
“They can absorb that for 100% of their portion of rent. And then there’s a six-month grace period,” says Altman. “When somebody is in the program, so long as they meet the income qualifications and they don’t reach that graduate level, they can use those as long as they’re income eligible.”
Housing vouchers are limited to $1,072 dollars, so as rent prices increase, the vouchers can’t cover the difference. HRDC can ask landlords to lower their rents, which doesn’t always happen.
“It’s like a three-to-four hundred dollar difference,” says Altman.
For Lewis, the senior center rent is low enough that the vouchers can cover the balance of the rent, and she’s happy to have stability once again.