Missoula City Council Writes Letter Asking Landlords To Be Nice To Renters With No Money

by William Skink

The first order of business on Friday was getting the kids out of the goddamn house. We went to the Milltown overlook, past the golf course and the shooting range. There is a trail that takes you down to the confluence of the Clark Fork River and the Blackfoot. Worth checking out if you have kids and cabin fever.

After burning up the morning, Grandma whisked away the kids so the wife and I could hit up Costco. The new occupancy limit of 250 people inside the building means a line of people now forms outside waiting for access. It only took us 15 minutes before we got inside, though, and the crowd was pretty docile. Is it the visibility of an armed security guard that helps keep people in check?

According to the Health Department there has yet to be a case of community spread in Missoula County. I’ll be watching my dad closely. He’s been helping the pastor of his church get their technology set up for remote preaching. I mentioned in another post this pastor decided to take his family to Hawaii earlier this month, which I thought was really stupid. Well, the pastor has now developed a fever and he STILL doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

Across the country there is an immense chasm between what politicians say and what is actually happening on the ground. Essential gear is not available to our frontline health care workers and there are still not enough tests. This is what a dying, hollowed out empire looks like from the inside.

Locally, there is immense fear that not paying rent will lead to the predictable outcome of not having a roof over your head. Our City Council members, in a bid to look even more powerless and useless (after ceding deal-making power to Herr Engen), penned a letter to landlords “urging” them to work with people who can’t cover rent. Why? Because they think landlords have the power to do so. From the link:

Missoula City Council members are urging landlords and property managers to work with renters who may struggle to pay their upcoming rent in light of recent layoffs and reduced wages as businesses close or cut back on hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You have it in your power to provide relief and reassurance,” the letter reads. “More than ever, people need to know they are not going to lose the place they call home.”

The letter asks Missoula area property managers and landlords to stop any eviction proceedings and agree not to initiate eviction proceedings for the next six months and work with property owners to waive rents for tenants who have lost jobs. Renters occupy more than half of Missoula’s housing units.

Now, I’m not usually in the position to defend property management companies and landlords, but I’m worried our City Council members may not understand how the real world continues to operate.

Most people don’t own homes outright. They often have monthly debt obligations. This is called a mortgage. Who do they pay? They pay an institution called a bank, which legally possesses the property. Not paying the mortgage is a breach of the legal agreement between the bank and the property owner, and the bank can then take away the property. This is called foreclosure. The same thing happens when you don’t pay your property taxes. The state then has the legal authority to kick you to the curb.

So, why appeal to landlords and property management companies when it’s the banks and the State that have more power in the overall housing picture?

The letter goes on to state the obvious in regards to a community that has built its future on tourism and service sector jobs:

“As you are no doubt aware, a large percentage of the workers in the Missoula area are dependent on service sector jobs for their incomes. Jobs that have all but disappeared in the wake of the closures that are necessary to attempt to slow the spread of this disease.”

The letter states that “putting people out on the street at this time would create a further burden on social services that are already stretched too thin.”

The letter points out that although there is expected to be some assistance from the state and federal governments, that assistance is not likely to arrive before April 1 when rent is due, and is not going to completely replace lost wages.

What a great and inspiring appeal from our elected leaders! I’m sure the recipients of this appeal will quickly risk foreclosure since City Council members asked so nicely.

While City Council uses the power of the pen to beg landlords to be considerate, I sit here and think about things like how many hotel rooms sit empty and how many millions of dollars in public money are still earmarked for projects that don’t make sense anymore.

I hope our elected leaders get more creative in how they think about the immense problems we are facing. This letter doesn’t leave me with a lot of hope that our current crop of council critters are up to the task.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Missoula City Council Writes Letter Asking Landlords To Be Nice To Renters With No Money

  1. kfc@hrcxi.org says:

    Is it time for the City/County to consider laying off employees and cutting services? Glacier County furloughed roughly half of its employees this week.
    2nd 1/2 roperty tax bills are due 6/1 and some businesses in MSO were already scrambling due to higher tax bills BV (before virus).
    Homeowners and Landlords who have paid off their mortgages have to pay the tax bill out of pocket. Some of them may have difficulty cumming up with the cash.

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