April is National Fair Housing Month and this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act.
Fair housing is the right to choose a home free from unlawful discrimination. Federal, state and local fair housing laws protect Montanans from discrimination in housing transactions such as rentals, sales, lending, and insurance. In Montana, it guarantees that regardless of age, race, creed, familial status, national origin, religion, color, sex, marital status, or disability, you have the right to choose the housing that’s best for your needs without facing discrimination.
Here in Montana, finding a stable and affordable home can be a challenge. Montanans face rising housing costs and a low supply of affordable apartments. Montana's geography, demographics, limited resources, and unreported violations have also slowed the progress of assuring equal housing opportunities for people of color, women, young adults, and LGBTQ populations.
For nearly 30 years, the state and its partners have worked tirelessly to end unlawful discrimination that can still happen in Montana. Progress has been made with the increase of housing opportunities for people with disabilities and households with children, but there is more work to be done.
Every day our teams at the Montana Department of Commerce and Montana Fair Housing work to break down these barriers and make access to affordable and safe housing a reality. Last year, the Montana Department of Commerce helped more than 8,700 Montanans find affordable and accessible housing through new-or-improved rental units, rental assistance, home ownership assistance, and reverse annuity mortgages.
For example, Great Falls now has 38 new accessible homes that provide seniors and residents with a disability the opportunity to live independently. The Voyageur Apartments are equipped with adaptations for the hearing and visually impaired. In addition, all common areas and central facilities such as sidewalks, parking area, doorways, interior hallways, elevators and public rest rooms are designed to meet wheelchair accessibility standards.
In Missoula, the 27-unit Sweetgrass Apartments have 10 fully-accessible units. The remaining 17 apartments can also be adapted to become fully accessible. These 27 homes will remain affordable for at least the next 46 years, providing a safe and accessible place to call home. More than 80 percent of the project was funded by Commerce’s Housing Credits and HOME Investment Partnership programs.
Fair Housing Month might end in April, but through our public-private partnerships the work of ensuring all Montanans have access to affordable, safe housing continues year-round. April 30-May 2, Commerce and Neighborworks Montana, will facilitate a number of educational opportunities about Fair Housing at the annual Montana Housing Partnership Conference in Butte. The conference will allow partners to collaborate with affordable housing experts such as Montana Fair Housing and other state housing organizations to expand public awareness about Fair Housing and continue to support the development of affordable housing in our vibrant communities for all Montanans.
Learn more about the conference and register to attend at http://housing.mt.gov/Conference.
Jennifer Olson, Administrator Community Development Division | Montana Department of Commerce
Pam Bean, Executive Director | Montana Fair Housing
Bruce Brensdal, Executive Director, Montana Housing | Montana Department of Commerce