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Housing vouchers are beneficial, but they might not be able to pay for all of a Gallatin County resident’s rent



Gallatin County, Montana – It should come as no surprise that homes might be hard to come by in Gallatin County. When you make some money but are unable to cover the difference, it can be more difficult. Gaining access to Section 8 housing assistance can still be difficult for some Valley residents as rents rise and more people relocate there.

“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 been a resident in Livingston for fifteen years, and throughout that time she has relied on HRDC assistance for rent payments for more than ten years.

“To be helpful with people and just cheerful. And because I’m here and there’s nowhere else to go,” says Lewis.

She moved into the Livingston Senior Center, although initially there were some doubts. Many applicants for Section 8 frequently have to wait years.

“I was just used to being on a list forever. So, I mean, and lo and behold, my number came up,” says Lewis.

Lewis, like hundreds of families in southwest Montana, receives assistance from the Montana Department of Commerce in the form of housing vouchers, or Section 8.

“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.

Assistance-receiving renters can stay on the program for as long as necessary, but they can leave if they earn enough money.

“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.”

Because housing vouchers are only worth $1,072, they are unable to keep up with rising rent costs. HRDC is able to request—though it is not usually granted—that landlords reduce their rent.

“It’s like a three-to-four hundred dollar difference,” says Altman.

Lewis is glad to have stability again because the senior center rent is cheap enough for the vouchers to cover the remaining amount.

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