Jim McGrath, Missoula Housing Authority

Jim McGrath of the Missoula Housing Authority speaks at the Montana Homelessness Conference in Helena in 2019.

For the first time in at least 15 years, the Missoula Housing Authority has been awarded 20 new Section 8 vouchers, ones that will help pay rent for families who have disabled members.

"We have over 400 families on our wait list currently that might be eligible for these vouchers," said Jim McGrath, director of HUD programs for the Housing Authority, in a statement this week. "HUD's expectation is that we fully use this allotment as promptly as possible. I am optimistic that we will do that."

HUD is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants who are eligible for the program pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, and the voucher covers the rest of their rental cost.

Monday, McGrath said the Missoula Housing Authority has had 774 vouchers for many years. The agency applied for additional ones through the "Mainstream Voucher" program, and McGrath said the application was strong, but he wasn't optimistic given the national competition.

However, he said the Housing Authority's partnership's with Opportunity Resources Inc., Summit Independent Living Center, and the YWCA of Missoula helped Missoula stand out. 

"That was a key element that I think made it strong," McGrath said of the Housing Authority's longstanding partnerships.

He said the new vouchers are worth $136,572 altogether.

In Missoula, some 49% of residents who rent a home are cost-burdened by housing, according to a report this summer from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. That means they spend more than 30% of their take-home pay on rent.

The vouchers will serve families that have disabled members who are 18 years or older and under 62 years old. The Housing Authority will be "targeting these to non-elderly disabled persons who are transitioning from institutions or other segregated settings, or those who have previously experienced homelessness and are currently a client in a rapid re-housing program."

Theresa Williams, Reaching Home coordinator for the Office of Housing and Community Development, said the vouchers will help prevent and end homelessness in Missoula.

"While 20 vouchers doesn’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, it’s the difference of having 20 families living in unsafe situations," Williams said in an email. "We need to support these families in their transition from institutions and rapid-rehousing programs so we can ensure that their risk of homelessness never becomes a reality."

She said the vouchers support Missoula's goal of ending homelessness, preventing it when possible, and ensuring that when it cannot be prevented, it is "a rare, brief and one-time experience." 

"We know that interventions need to start upstream, so we’re grateful that these vouchers target families at risk of homelessness," she said.

McGrath said people on the waiting list have to wait roughly three years, which is "down a little bit," and their circumstances vary. Some are currently paying too much for housing; some are doubled up; some might be homeless.

"To give you an example, if you're on Social Security and you had an apartment, you may be paying most of your income toward that rent. And so if you are then able to get rental assistance, that allows you to have an opportunity to do other things," he said.

The Housing Authority notes families who qualify need to apply to the existing Housing Choice Voucher wait list at missoula.house or call Shanda Walker at 549-4113, extension 113, for more information.

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