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Montana Housing Guidance on COVID-19

Thursday, April 23, 2020/Categories: Community Development Division, Montana Housing

This post was updated May 7, 2020 at 2:31 p.m.

At Montana Housing, within the Department of Commerce, we are closely monitoring the impacts of the novel Coronavirus or COVID-19. We will communicate with statewide housing partners any relevant information about COVID-19 and how it affects affordable homes in Montana.

A COVID-19 information phone line at 1-888-333-0461 has been launched and Montanans can also email questions to covid19info@mt.gov. State public health officials will be responding to inquiries from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Montanans can also visit covid19.mt.gov to receive regularly updated information on COVID-19.

Important Announcements

Consumer Protections

  • The March 30 and April 13 Directives to limit foreclosures, evictions, and disconnections from service and all of their terms are extended through May 24, unless modified by a subsequent Directive, except as follows:
    • For individuals who are members of a vulnerable population and who, pursuant to this Directive, remain sheltered at home, the protections of the March 30 and April 13 Directives will expire 30 days after the individual ceases to shelter at home or at the end of the emergency, whichever is sooner. “Vulnerable Individuals” is defined as people over 65 years of age, people with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, or asthma, and people whose immune system is compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer or other conditions requiring such therapy.
  • Tenants and homeowners are not relieved from paying rent or make mortgage payments.
  • Tenants impacted by COVID-19 should notify their landlord or property owner as promptly as feasible. The landlord or property owner may request the tenant to provide “reasonably available supporting documentation of their need for relief.” Landlords are not permitted to terminate a lease solely based on information provided by the tenant to satisfy this requirement. Tenants should also acknowledge to their landlord or property owner their understanding that all of the terms of their lease remain in effect.
  • Landlords are prohibited from terminating a lease or refusing to renew or extend the terms of a current lease agreement, at least on a month-to-month basis. It also prohibits late fees or other penalties due to late or nonpayment of rent, prohibits rent increases except for those previously agreed upon and prohibits landlords from seeking damages in court due to nonpayment of rent.
  • An expanded Emergency Housing Assistance program was launched on May 7 to provide rental, security deposit, mortgage payment and hazard insurance assistance as-needed for Montanans who have lost a job or substantial income loss as a result of COVID-19.

Read the April 22 Phase One Directive here

Read the April 13 Directive here

Read the March 31 Directive here

Customer Service Window

The Montana Housing customer service window is currently closed to public visitors to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Montana Housing borrowers need to make a mortgage payment can do so online, by phone, ACH or sending it by mail. Montana Housing will waive phone and online payment fees through the month of May (May 31). For questions about Montana Housing’s programs, please call 406.841.2840.


Event Updates


Multifamily Housing

  • Site visits for Housing Credits and Project Based Section 8 properties have been postponed. 
  • The 2021 Housing Credit Letter of Intent (LOI) deadline has been extended to April 27, 2020. The meeting for Board consideration of these LOI’s will continue to be May 18 and 19, 2020 and will be conducted remotely by webinar only. Developers are asked to submit their presentations by May 8, 2020. Staff will contact developers directly with presentation submission instructions. 
  • Audits / File Reviews: Compliance audits / file reviews will be conducted electronically. Properties due for a review in 2020 will be contacted with further instructions.
  • Recertifications: For properties that are required to complete annual recertifications of income, we are permitting delays for the recertification for all tenants at this time.
  • Once physical inspections resume, properties will be expected to begin recertifying tenants in cases where the recertification was delayed. Please make the effective date retroactive to when the recertification was originally due. We will not issue a compliance finding for late recertifications during this COVID-19 period.
  • For example, for a move-in on 4/1/2019 where a property is unable to complete the recertification until 7/1/2020: Verify income late for the period beginning 4/1/2020 and making the recertification retroactive to 4/1/2020. Use current signature dates even though the recertification is made retroactive. Montana Housing will require ‘True & Correct as of’ language.
  • Student Certification: For properties not doing recertifications, but still completing annual student certifications, we are permitting the delay of student certifications for all tenants at this time. Student Certifications will also need to be completed when physical inspections resume. The effective date will be the date due. Use current signature dates even though the student cert is made retroactive.  Montana Housing will require ‘True & Correct as of’ language.

Novogradac Resource: COVID-19 Declaration May Allow Flexibility for LIHTC, Bond Developments


Homeownership

Loan Purchasing – Montana Housing’s loan purchasing function remains operational and we plan to continue to fund reserved loans on a weekly basis. 

Please review our COVID-19 Guidance for Lenders and Partners for specific program changes.


Housing Choice Voucher

Montana Housing has adopted statutory and regulatory waivers as per PIH 2020-05

  • Housing Quality Standard Inspection information is included in Montana Housing’s adopted statutory and regulatory waiver information located above.
  • For initial inspections that are occupied and have a failed inspection: 
    • If the failed inspection does not contain a life threatening deficiency, field agencies may accept landlord and tenant certification that the deficiencies have been corrected along with verification of remediation in lieu of conducting a re-inspection. Examples of verification include pictures or copies of completed work-orders, etc. This will only apply until the Governor removes the State of Emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • We encourage applicants and participants to provide information electronically or through the mail; this includes annual reexamination, lease-up paperwork and interim reporting. 
  • Montana Housing is currently in the process of issuing voucher extensions as a result of COVID-19 to those initial voucher holders who have an outstanding voucher as of March 16, 2020 or were issued a voucher after this date. Voucher holders will be notified via mail with information on their voucher extension. 
  • Montana Housing anticipates longer processing times. There may be delays in payment processing, if this occurs all amounts will be retroactive to the effective date, pending complete and accurate documentation. Thank you for your patience.
  • Our website contains a copy of the Tenant Information Form and Release of Information for convenience. In the event household income has decreased, voucher holders may print and provide completed documents to local field agencies for processing.
  • For families that are receiving rental assistance and have lost income, the household must report any income loss to their housing provider to be eligible for increased rental assistance.
  • Voucher holders who have experienced a loss of income and are waiting for benefits may be eligible for minimum rent hardship. Information and forms are available on our website. Complete all forms and follow field agency submission processes.
  • Montana Housing encourages participants to use Assistance Connect if participants have previously signed up or have received a PIN number in the mail.  Assistance Connect allows participants a secure way to receive official communication electronically to check status and submit documents for changes and updates to income and family composition.
  • CARES Act stimulus payments are excluded from annual income and would be classified as temporary, nonrecurring payments. 
  • Regular unemployment benefits are considered income. However, the additional $600 per week enhancement provided by the CARES Act are excluded because these payments are temporary and likely non-recurring after the pandemic emergency ends. 

HUD Resource: COVID-19 FAQs for the Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) (including the Project-based Voucher Program (PBV)) and Native American Programs

HUD Resource: Addressing Tenant Concerns Regarding Rent and the Temporary Suspension of Evictions for Nonpayment of Rent


Mortgage Servicing

  • Montana Housing is directing borrowers to pay online, by mail, ACH or phone. Montana Housing will waive phone and online payment fees through the month of May (May 31).  Montana Housing’s customer service window is currently  closed to the public until further notice.
  • For information about mortgage forbearance please visit Montana Housing’s Mortgage Servicing page

Frequently Asked Questions

Homeowners

I’m concerned I can’t pay my mortgage, what should I do?

Under the CARES Act, borrowers with a Federally backed mortgage loan (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, USDA, VA etc.) experiencing a financial hardship due to the COVID–19 emergency may request a forbearance. Borrowers should contact their mortgage servicer directly (the institution they make payments to) to discuss their specific situation. The Consumer Finance Protection Agency (CFPB) has also published a Guide to coronavirus mortgage relief options that may be a helpful resource.

If you need help paying your mortgage payment or hazard insurance, learn more about the Montana Emergency Housing Assistance program at COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.

Who is eligible for mortgage payment assistance through the expanded Emergency Housing Assistance program?

Eligible households are based on family size and annual incomes that range from $75,000-$125,000. 

Are unemployment insurance payments and the stimulus payment I received included in my income calculation for Emergency Housing Assistance?

All unemployment insurance benefits including the additional $600 per week being received should be included in income, the stimulus checks will not be included.

Are there special loss mitigation program options available to borrowers who may be negatively impacted by the Coronavirus?

Loss mitigation options provide solutions for distressed borrowers – including those that could be impacted by the Coronavirus. Borrowers should contact their mortgage servicer directly (the institution they make payments to) to discuss their specific situation. Montana Housing is only able to assist Montana Housing borrowers. 

Montana Housing borrowers can find information about the CARES Act forbearance program on our website. Detailed FAQs on existing loss mitigation options for Montana Housing borrowers are also available on our website.

Questions About Governor Bullock’s March 31, April 13 and April 22 Consumer Protection Directives

Can you protect rent against increases?

Housing Credit properties cannot increase rent by more than 5 percent on an annual basis. Under the governor's April 13 Directive effective through May 24​, all other private landlords may not increase the amount of rent payable under the terms of a rental agreement (except previously agreed increases or reasonable increases reflecting the size of the unit, number of tenants or guests, or services provided by the landlord).

Is assistance available for landlords to continue paying their own mortgages if tenants aren’t paying rent?
 

Tenants are not relieved of their obligation to pay rent. 

At this time, there are no state dollars available to help residential landlords pay their mortgages. We recommend that you immediately contact your mortgage servicer to find out if loan forbearance is an option, or if your lender has a program in place to help get through this unprecedented situation.

Under SEC. 4023 of the CARES Act, owners of multifamily properties with federally backed loans can request a forbearance on residential mortgage loan payments. 

If you need help paying your mortgage payment or hazard insurance, learn more about the Montana Emergency Housing Assistance program at COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.

I can’t continue to pay my own bills if my rental income is not coming in. How do you expect landlords to weather this?
 

The Directive specifies that while some landlords may have resources to absorb the loss of payments for a longer period of time, others may not. Given the current emergency condition requiring social distancing and quarantining to reduce spread of the coronavirus, preventing the loss of homes is critical. 

In crafting this directive, thoughtful consideration was given to recognize and minimize the potential negative impacts of such protections on landlords and other parties to rental agreements and mortgages. Therefore, the directive is currently effective through May 24 but with the ability to extend if warranted by this rapidly changing public health emergency. In addition, the state continues to explore all policy options to support tenants and landlords. 

My tenant hasn’t paid rent in three months and I must evict them. Does this directive prevent me from continuing that process?

Yes. The directive does prevent actions for termination of a tenancy, possession, unlawful holdover, or rent involving a residential tenancy. In addition, no writ, judgment, or order requiring a tenant or authorized guest to surrender or vacate the premises shall be enforced. The Governor has requested the courts of the state to stay all currently pending actions. 

I’m not able to pay my rent due to a decrease or loss of income related to the COVID-19 emergency. What should I do?

Please contact your landlord to work out a solution if you are not able to pay rent or pay rent in full. Tenants are strongly encouraged to utilize financial resources that may be forthcoming, such as unemployment benefits or stimulus check, to stay current on rent obligations. 

If you need help paying rent or a security deposit, learn more about the Montana Emergency Housing Assistance program at COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.

Who is eligible for rental assistance through the expanded Emergency Housing Assistance program?

Eligible households are based on family size and annual incomes that range from $75,000-$125,000. 

Are unemployment insurance payments and the stimulus payment I received included in my income calculation for Emergency Housing Assistance?

All unemployment insurance benefits including the additional $600 per week being received should be included in income, the stimulus checks will not be included.

Does this mean I no longer have to pay rent? 

No. The Directive does not relieve tenants from paying rent or borrowers from paying mortgages or other financial obligations related to homeownership.

My landlord doesn’t care about this directive and has evicted me anyway, what should I do?
 

We recommend contacting the Montana Legal Services Association. 

Does this directive apply to vacant or abandoned rental units or homes?

No. The directive does not apply to eviction actions taken or made after the tenant (including tenant family members) is no longer in possession and no longer occupies the dwelling unit personally as their home. Nor does the directive apply to any foreclosure action made after the borrower (or other debtor including family members) is no longer in possession and no longer occupies the residential property personally as their primary home.

Does this directive apply to commercial properties? 

No.

Are all tenants covered under the temporary halt on residential evictions?

No. The limitation on residential evictions only applies under specific circumstances, such as the tenant suffering a substantial loss of income due to COVID-19, a requirement to self-quarantine due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, tenants over 65 and those experiencing a health condition that places his/her at enhanced risk for COVID-19. Please refer to the Directive for complete details. 

If I’ve suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19 and am unable to pay my rent. Do I need to provide documentation to my landlord?

Yes. Tenants who meet one of the circumstances outlined in the April 13 Directive, such as substantial loss of income, must notify their landlord or property owner. The landlord or property owner may ask tenants to provide “reasonably available supporting documentation of their need for relief.”  Tenants should provide this supporting documentation as promptly as feasible. Supporting documentation could include a letter or email from an employer verifying job loss or cut hours, or recent paystubs showing a substantial loss of income. It is recommended that landlords be flexible to accommodate self-certification of substantial loss of income, in the event the employer is unavailable, unresponsive and in cases of self-employment or independent contractor status. 

I am quarantined due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or required to self-quarantine. What documentation do I provide my landlord? 

Tenants required to quarantine based on their diagnosis of COVID-19, or required to self-quarantine for reasons outlined in the Directive, are not required to provide health diagnosis information that is privacy protected to their landlord or property owner. The tenants can self-certifying to their landlord or property owner that they are “required to quarantine or self-quarantine”. If documentation from a health care provider is “reasonably available”, the tenant can supply that documentation to the landlord. Health care provider documentation can affirm the requirement to quarantine, but should not include diagnosis information. 

I am over age 65 and/or have a health condition that places me at enhanced risk for COVID-19. What documentation do I provide my landlord?

Tenants are not required to provide health diagnosis information that is privacy protected to their landlord or property owner. The tenants can self-certifying to their landlord or property owner that they “have a health condition that places me at enhanced risk for COVID-19.“ If documentation from a health care provider is “reasonably available”, the tenant can supply that documentation to the landlord. Health care provider documentation can affirm the existence of a health condition that places the tenant at enhanced risk for COVID-19, but should not include diagnosis information. 

Can landlords require tenants to notify them when income goes back up, e.g. severance pay received or starts receiving unemployment checks?

The Directive does not relieve a tenant’s obligation to pay rent. It is recommended that tenants remain in contact with their landlords and keep them informed about their situation. As a tenant’s financial hardship is lessened due to increases of income, tenants could discuss options for a payment plan with their landlord or make other efforts to become current on rent obligations. Landlords are encouraged to be flexible in working with tenants.

Does “reasonably available supporting documentation of their need for relief” require tenants to provide communication to landlords in writing or complete specific forms required by their landlord?

The most important thing is that the tenant communicates with the landlord or property owner promptly. The Directive does not specify the form of communication (i.e. email, phone, text or mail). Landlords are encouraged to be flexible in working with tenants and refrain from prescribing any particular form of communication or particular document that must be completed.



How to Apply for Medicaid, Other Assistance

The Montana DPHHS Public Assistance Helpline is 1-888-706-1535. There, clients are able apply for SNAP food assistance, TANF cash assistance or health care coverage. Call scheduling is a convenient feature that allows clients to make an appointment for a call back instead of waiting on hold.

The website apply.mt.gov is also another option. By opening an online account, clients can apply for, renew, report changes and check their benefits online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Clients can also submit applications via the OPA fax number at 1-877-418-4533 or by mail at Field Offices of Public Assistance, PO Box 202925, Helena MT 59620.               '-

Montanans are also encouraged to reach out to OPA office staff through email. A list of OPA office email contact information can be found here: https://dphhs.mt.gov/hcsd/OfficeofPublicAssistance


Mental Health Resources

The following crisis resources are available for all Montanans.

If you or someone you love is at risk of harm to self:
The Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The Montana Crisis Text Line, text MT to 741741 or go to https://www.crisistextline.org/

If you need someone to talk to:
The Montana Warmline at 877-688-3377

If you are working to manage anxiety and depression during this time: Montana THRIVE (computerized cognitive behavior therapy) at https://thriveformontana. com/


Federal and State Resources


More HUD Resources 
DPHHShttps://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt
Montana COVID-19 Hotline: 1-888-333-0461 or COVID19info@mt.gov 
Montana Coronavirus task force: COVID19@MT.GOV
Montana Disaster and Emergency Services on: FacebookTwitterInstagram
CDChttps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
Visit MontanaVISITMT.COM or 1-800-847-4868

 
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DIRECTOR'S OFFICE | MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
301 S. PARK AVE. | PO BOX 200501 | HELENA, MT 59620-0501 | P: 406.841.2700 | F: 406.841.2701 | TDD: 406.841.2702
 

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