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Montana Housing Guidance on COVID-19

Friday, March 20, 2020/Categories: Community Development Division, Montana Housing

Updated: April 2, 2020 at 2:10 p.m.

The State of Montana prioritizes the health and safety of our citizens. To bolster the state’s response to the coronavirus situation, Governor Bullock launched a Coronavirus Task Force on March 3 to coordinate efforts across state government. The Task Force, led by Adjutant General Matthew Quinn, is now providing ways state residents can ask questions related to the coronavirus situation in Montana. The Montana Department of Commerce is part of this Task Force. 

A coronavirus (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.

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

Important Announcements:

Consumer Protections

On March 31, Governor Steve Bullock announced consumer protections to lessen the economic impacts on Montanans during the COVID-19 statewide emergency by stopping evictions, foreclosures and cancellation of utility services including water, heating and internet service. 

For the duration of the Directive (effective through April 10), 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.

The Directive also stops involuntary sales of homes, foreclosures, liens placed on residential properties or late fees charged due to inability to pay mortgage payments on time for the duration of the Directive.

The Directive does not relieve tenants from paying rent or borrowers from paying mortgages or other financial obligations related to homeownership. Read the Directive here.

Customer Service Window

Starting on Monday, March 23, the customer service window at Montana Housing will close to public visitors to protect against the spread of COVID-19. If Montana Housing customers need to make a mortgage payment, they can do so online, by phone or sending it by mail. Montana Housing will waive phone and online payment fees through the month of April (April 30). For any questions about Montana Housing’s Homeownership, Rental Assistance and Multifamily Development programs call 406.841.2840.


Event Updates

To protect against the spread of COVID-19, Montana Housing has also postponed: 


Multifamily Housing

  • Montana Housing will postpone site visits for Housing Credits and Project Based Section 8 properties. We are currently identifying options for online submission of compliance documents.
     
  • 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. Developers are asked to be prepared to do remote presentations in the event the Board meeting is done by webinar only.
     
  • 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. 

Housing Choice Voucher

  • 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. We ask for patience and that participants refrain from making multiple calls to our agencies which could result in longer delays.
     
  • We want to assure you that in the event a payment is delayed, all amounts will be retroactive to the effective date, pending complete and accurate documentation.
     
  • Voucher holders who receive utility reimbursements may experience delays.
     
  • 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.

  • Housing Quality Standard Inspections may be delayed due to extra precautions being taken to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Contact local field agencies for the status of any pending inspections.
  • 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. 

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


Mortgage Servicing

  • Montana Housing is directing borrowers to pay online, by mail or phone. Montana Housing will waive phone and online payment fees through the month of April (April 30).  Montana Housing’s customer service window will be closed beginning Monday, March 23.
     
  • The following guidance only applies to borrowers with Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured loans:

On March 18, 2020, FHA announced a foreclosure and eviction moratorium for all FHA-insured Single Family mortgages for a period of 60 days. Per FHA’s notice: “Properties secured by FHA-insured Single Family mortgages are subject to a moratorium on foreclosure for a period of 60 days. The moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures and to the completion of foreclosures in process. Similarly, evictions of persons from properties secured by FHA-insured Single Family mortgages are also suspended for a period of 60 days. In addition, deadlines of the first legal action and reasonable diligence timelines are extended by 60 days.”

The Federal Housing Administration also released COVID-19 Questions and Answers on March 18, 2020. The FHA Q&A below is applicable only to borrowers with FHA-insured loans:  

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

A. As with any other event that negatively impacts a borrower’s ability to pay their monthly mortgage payment, FHA’s suite of loss mitigation options provides solutions that mortgagees should offer to distressed borrowers – including those that could be impacted by the Coronavirus – to help prevent them from going into foreclosure. An example of one of these options is our Special Forbearance for unemployed borrowers. The SFB-Unemployment Option is a Home Retention Option available when one or more of the Borrowers has become unemployed and this loss of employment has negatively affected the Borrower’s ability to continue to make their monthly Mortgage Payment. These home retention options are located in FHA’s Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1 (SF Handbook) Section III.A.2. See FHA INFO 20-18 for more details. FHA is closely monitoring the situation and will provide updated guidance, as needed.

Federal Housing Administration COVID-19 Questions and Answers 

Foreclosure and eviction moratorium for all FHA-insured Single Family 

  • The following applies to USDA guaranteed loans: 

Effective March 19, 2020, borrowers with USDA guaranteed loans are subject to a moratorium on foreclosure for a period of 60 days. The moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures and to the completion of foreclosures in process.

Similarly, evictions of persons from properties secured by USDA guaranteed loans are also suspended for a period of 60 days.

In addition, deadlines of the first legal action and reasonable diligence timelines are extended by 60 days.


FAQs:

Q: I’m concerned I can’t pay my Montana Housing mortgage, what should I do?

A: All payments are due on the first of the month. If your payment is made by the 16th of the month, a late fee will not be assessed. If you anticipate that it will be difficult or impossible for you to make your mortgage payment, there are options available. If you become ill, are quarantined, your employment status changes or another hardship arises as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, you may be eligible for short-term relief. Please call us at 855.841.2799There is no specific relief program for mortgage payments that are missed or past due because of the coronavirus at this time, but we will work with our borrowers on a case-by-case basis to assist in any way possible. We will update this information as additional guidance becomes available.

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

A: Loss mitigation options provide solutions for distressed borrowers – including those that could be impacted by the Coronavirus. Detailed FAQs on existing loss mitigation options for Montana Housing borrowers are available on our website. 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. 

Q: Who can I contact with questions about emergency preparedness efforts for Public and Indian Housing?

A: Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), Tribes and Tribally Designated Housing Entities (TDHEs) should stay in touch with their assigned field representatives. PIH has also established a dedicated email address for questions at PIH-COVID@hud.gov.

Q: How should staff that regularly interact with residents and their homes perform their regular duties if there is a quarantine? 

A: PHAs, Tribes and TDHEs should plan now for alternative procedures for these processes, as they may become restricted during a quarantine. Options may include electronic transmission of funds, online teleconference calls, or secure collection boxes for payments.

Q: If there is a need to do specialized cleaning or disinfection in a public housing unit or building as part of response, can operating funds be used for the cleaning? How about capital funds?

A: PHAs may be asked by the health department to assist in response to COVID-19. If the PHA needs to perform specialized cleaning of a unit and temporary relocation of that family to another unit while it is performed, HUD considers the cleaning and temporary relocation of that family an operating expense, therefore they may use operating funds.

Q: Can you protect rent against increases?

A: Housing Credit properties cannot increase rent by more than 5 percent on an annual basis. Under the governor's Directive effective through April 10, 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).

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

A: The Directive specifies that tenants are not relieved of their obligation to pay rent. In his press conference, the Governor strongly encouraged those tenants who can to pay on time and in full.

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. 

Q: 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?

AThe Directive specifies that tenants are not relieved of their obligation to pay rent. In his press conference, the Governor strongly encouraged those tenants who can to pay on time and in full. 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. 

Q: 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?
 

A: 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 April 10 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. 

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

A:  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. 

Q: My landlord gave me an eviction notice last week/yesterday – does this directive change that?

A: Yes. The Governor’s directive requests the courts to stay all currently pending actions except for health and safety violations.

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

A: We recommend contacting the Montana Legal Services Association. 

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

A: 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.

Q: Does this directive apply to commercial properties? 

A: No.


CDC Message on Homelessness and COVID-19

Persons experiencing homelessness may be at risk for infection during an outbreak of COVID-19. This interim guidance is intended to support response planning by homeless service providers, including overnight emergency shelters, day shelters, and meal service providers.

COVID-19 is caused by a new virus. There is much to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of the disease. Everyone can do their part to help plan, prepare, and respond to this emerging public health threat.

CDC has developed recommendations for homeless service providers about how to protect their staff, clients, and guests. The Before, During, and After sections of this guidance offer suggested strategies to help homeless service providers plan, prepare, and respond to this emerging public health threat.


Stay Informed

The CDC and state public health officials recommend all Montanans take the following precautions: 

  • Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your sleeve, and then throwing the tissue in the trash.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth ‑ with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you have cold or flu-like symptoms and avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Do not travel if you’re sick
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have COVID-19 symptoms. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • Stay home except to get medical care: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
  • It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. Stay current on your vaccination, including the flu vaccine. 
  • Watch for travel advisories. Consult the CDC’s travel website for any travel advisories and steps to protect yourself if you plan to travel outside the US. 


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 

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 forceCOVID19@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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