Montana can and should have stable, affordable housing
Photo illustration by Getty Images.
When I was 10, I lived in a poorly insulated house with a well-loved wood-burning stove in Cut Bank, Montana–the self-proclaimed “coldest spot in the nation.” Then we moved to Bozeman, and lived in a cramped camper. After that, I spent a lot of time couch-surfing with my siblings. When I emancipated myself as a teenager, I was lucky enough to live with my brother, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford my own place while working and attending high school.
I know from my own experience and working with unhoused people in my community, that the rent is too damn high. People across the state are forced out of their homes because landlords are hiking rents.
Rent is the biggest monthly expense for working people. More than 110 million Americans rent their homes, and more than half of tenants are “rent burdened,” meaning rent eats up more than 30 percent of their monthly income. Today, children under five are the demographic most at risk for eviction. In Montana, a minimum wage worker would have to work 77 hours a week just to afford a modest two-bedroom for their family.
I am lucky enough to have more housing stability now than when I was younger, but landlords are increasing rents in Bozeman, and I’m scared my stability won’t last long. I moved into Mountain View Apartments in the summer of ‘23, while my friend Jim has lived here for the past 11 years. His rent started at $800, but has been raised almost every year. Now he pays about $1,800, and my rent started at $2,200. This is the reality for Bozeman tenants. The median rent in Bozeman now is $2,400, far from affordable.
Everyone should have a safe, accessible, permanently affordable home, but corporate greed is in our way. During the pandemic, corporate landlords backed by private equity colluded to raise rents and maximize profits, using algorithms to set high rents and effectively evict many tenants. Since the 2008 housing collapse, private equity has rapidly expanded its footprint in the housing market. In 2011, roughly one-third of apartment units were owned by private equity. Today, half are owned by private equity. The reality is many of these companies are national or even global corporations, and the nature of private equity makes it nearly impossible to hold investors accountable when their profit-driven model hurts tenants.
We are calling on Sen. Jon Tester and the federal government to do more to protect consumers from corporate landlords.
Right now, the corporate real estate industry is subsidized by government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which provide corporate properties with mortgages. If these corporations are going to receive government-backed money, it should come with strings attached, including tenant protections like rent regulations.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency was created to help stabilize the U.S. housing finance system. As a result, the agency has the authority it needs to require basic tenant protections as conditions for any home loans or loan purchases made by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In Montana, more than 1,000 households could benefit from FHFA tenant protections.
For tenants like me, a rent increase is tantamount to an eviction without a day in court. By adding rent regulations to government-backed mortgages, the FHFA can help people who are otherwise forced to choose between paying for rent or paying for medication, food and care for their families, or services that allow them age with dignity.
Tenants need material relief now. Evictions have returned to, and in some cases, exceeded, pre-pandemic levels in nearly every city in our country. The stakes are too high to allow corporate landlords to continue acting without oversight. Sen. Tester and the Biden administration need to take action.
I am a member of Bozeman Tenants United and the Homes Guarantee Campaign because I believe that everyone deserves safe, dignified, affordable and stable housing. I want to believe in a future where folks aren’t constantly concerned about where they’re going to lay their head. We need federal tenant protections, including rent regulations, now.
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