By Bruce Brensdal, Executive Director, Montana Board of Housing
Imagine being a first-time homebuyer and your home gets damaged when a city water line bursts. Soon, you’re in court fighting to fix your home as you watch the heat bill rise because the damage means cold air now seeps into the house every day.
Even before the accident, it was a stretch to make ends meet on a nurse’s paycheck, especially for a single parent who is also paying for childcare. Luckily, the homeowner could reach out to the Montana Board of Housing for support, but it illustrates the challenges Montanans face every day as they struggle to keep their homes in the effort to improve their lives. It’s these stories that make my job at the Board of Housing so critical for the success of our communities.
For 42 years, we’ve provided affordable housing options for families who are not served by the market’s rates. The Board provides a variety of mortgage and down-payment assistance products, originated by local banks across the state, and has been servicing their own loans for years.
The bi-partisan passage of House Bill 26 means more Montanans will have access to working with a local loan servicer who is focused on ensuring families can stay in their homes.
Our staff are uniquely positioned to support homeowners, often the first generation in their family to do so, and guide them through the challenges of owning a house. Our staff have successfully helped families struggling with home mortgage delinquencies by temporarily reducing their property taxes; accessing senior supportive services, job training to improve income, the local food pantry and energy assistance, and emergency funding.
I’m proud to report this work is a tremendous success. Because of the work we do, the foreclosure rate for Montana Board of Housing serviced loans is less than one percent – about half of the national rate.
I applaud the Montana Legislature for its overwhelming support. Lawmakers realized that HB 26 makes it possible for every banker on every main street in Montana to keep their promise to families, that they would be in safe hands, that they would receive help, if needed, and that homeownership is a risk that they can win and that they will benefit from, if they work hard.
The beneficiaries of the public/private partnership created by HB 26 are many and they are statewide. Montana’s lending institutions can trust the Board of Housing to provide top-notch servicing of their loans. Banks can focus on the next important need of their communities. Communities are stronger with more financially-stable homeowners. Families are stronger with stable housing. Children thrive in stable homes. Local economies thrive and can grow with a community of stable families and workers.
The nurse who had experienced her worst nightmare of having her home damaged, through no fault of her own, and who had worked so hard to keep her head above water was lucky enough to have her loan transferred to the Montana Board of Housing for servicing. This homeowner came back from the brink of foreclosure and is now able to work regular hours and spend more time with her son. She has been current on her loan ever since, and is grateful for the coaching and advice she received from the Montana Board of Housing.
Bruce Brensdal is the Administrator of the Montana Department of Commerce Housing Division and Executive Director of the Montana Board of Housing.