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Landlords in Missoula have a time-sensitive opportunity to house people in desperate need without worrying about many of the headaches that can come with renting.

The Missoula Housing Authority and other organizations urgently want local landlords and property owners to know that, especially for the next month, there’s a chance to leverage federal dollars to guarantee rent payments for chronically homeless people.

All that's needed are landlords willing to accept Shelter Plus Care vouchers. The MHA needs to use the vouchers to place people in housing before April 1, or it will lose the federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That’s why the Housing Authority partnered with United Way of Missoula County and the Missoula Coordinated Entry System to launch a campaign on Tuesday called “March Home: 40 Homes in 40 Days” to house 40 vulnerable people or families this month.

With the homeless population increasing in Missoula the past three years to more than 300 on any given day, and the city’s vacancy rate at a very low 2 percent, it’s a dire situation. The campaign aims to make a significant dent in the problem.

Landlords who accept the vouchers get many benefits, including rent guaranteed to be paid directly from the MHA instead of the tenant, so there’s no waiting or having to track people down. Landlords also don’t need to verify prospective tenants' income, because there is no income requirement.

These tenants also pay a double deposit, and program participants have access to support services. Even though residents who qualify for these vouchers don’t, statistically speaking, cause any more damage to housing than other demographics, there’s a property damage insurance program that can cover up to one month’s rent in case something happens.

The program also has reduced fees to advertise vacancies, because the Coordinated Entry System is the referral source. And, there's the possibility of a vacancy payment if someone moves out and the landlord can’t promptly rent the property as well.

“We think this is a good bet for Missoula landlords who participate,” said Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County, the nonprofit that founded and leads Reaching Home, Missoula’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.

“We think it’s the right thing to do. It makes good business sense for our community and we are reaching out today to our business partners, asking them to learn about the program and to work with us. It makes sense," Patrick said. "It’s just wrong for people to continue to live in homelessness when they have the resources to be housed.”

Julie Barrett, a formerly homeless Missoula resident, testified on Tuesday about how the Shelter Plus Care voucher system changed her life.

“I’m a single mom of three kids,” she said, tearing up as she spoke. “It took us over a year to find housing. If it wasn’t for this program we would still be homeless. That struggle — it was really, really a blessing to know that I would have less stress on me when it came to my kids having stability. It was so good to know there was an opportunity because housing is hard. With jobs, we had circumstances that you don’t have control over.”

She said the Shelter Plus Care system means that residents have to stick to a plan and utilize provided resources.

“It’s very hard, but once you do it it’s a blessing,” she said. “I think that if people have more help like that and encouragement, it doesn’t feel like you’re failing all the time. It is definitely a program that I think a lot of landlords should just accept and look into.”

She said she wants landlords to know that despite some myths and stereotypes, people who are homeless are also good tenants when they finally find housing.

“You’re not going to get taken advantage of,” she said. “You’re not going to sit there and regret (renting to a homeless person). Because a lot of these people that I have known and people that are still looking for housing and have this voucher, that is an emotional part of it … trying to find somebody that is willing, to say, ‘You have a job or you have kids, let’s find you a house.’ I tell you what, Dec. 15 was a life-changing experience for me.”

She said that landlords are often skeptical because homeless people may have low-paying jobs that ordinarily wouldn’t qualify them for many types of housing. However, the voucher system can pay a portion or even all of the rent, so incomes shouldn’t be an issue.

Jim McGrath said his office has tracked how many people on the voucher systems have problems with damaging apartments, and it’s lower or equal to the entire population of renters as a whole. 

“To be honest with you, we almost never pay for damages because there’s never damages,” he said. “They’re housed and they have supportive services … to head that off. Most of our folks are really good tenants for a long time.”

He said people using the vouchers are sometimes mentally or physically disabled, but they also have different support systems in place and many are long-term renters, which reduces turnover headaches for landlords. The MHA has 92 of the vouchers but is able to serve 125 households with the grant.

“Our coordinated network of homeless and housing providers are working smarter, not harder, to prevent and end homelessness in the community,” said Theresa Williams, the Reaching Home coordinator. “We know that increasing access to existing rental stock is essential, as we cannot build our way out of the problem. We need landlords and property managers to join us in this campaign to end homelessness for 40 of our most vulnerable Missoulians by April 1, 2018.”

For more information contact Jim McGrath at or call 406-549-4113.

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