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Missoula Tenants Union forms amid housing crisis

Missoula Housing
Posted at 3:07 PM, Jun 09, 2022

MISSOULA - We continue our coverage tonight on Missoula's housing crisis.

Rental market data from the Washington Post shows rental prices have increased almost 19% since 2019. But now, a union is forming as conditions for renters remain bleak.

MTN's Katie Miller has more on what this means for renters, and how this union is hoping to help frustrated tenants.

A group of tenants is organizing, hoping for solutions — and forming the Missoula Tenants Union.

Janet A. Vaughn told MTN News she fears she will become homeless soon. To stay in her current rental, she said she's being asked to pay more than she can afford.

"All I want to do is be where I can breathe," said Vaughn, who uses an oxygen tank. "If I had to pay $1,000 a month in rent, I wouldn't be able to breathe, because I wouldn't be able to afford the medical stuff that I need."

She told us she's done everything she can think of to work with the landlord and hopes to buy herself some more time, "why are they still trying to put me out in the streets? I'm terrified, I really am. This is not okay."

Janet A. Vaughn
Missoula resident Janet A. Vaughn

Ken Grinde with the Missoula Tenants Union says Vaughn is one of many in Missoula facing what he calls a de-facto eviction.

"It just feels like your life is in someone else's hands. Your most basic security, your house, is at the whim of someone else's financial decisions," Grinde said.

He added that as rents rise, frustrated tenants are going door to door, looking for answers.

"People are scared and desperate. One of the things the union wants to do is reconnect that community."

The Missoula Tenants Union is a growing support system for Missoula neighbors, as many navigate a tricky market.

"Right now what we provide is access to legal services," Grinde said.

Ken Grinde
Ken Grinde with the Missoula Tenants Union

Grinde says the group has some goals, too, that they believe would make renting more equitable.

"Better control, a cap on housing rent increases. The other one is better regulation of short-term rentals, VRBOs and Airbnbs.

The Missoula Tenants Union is also starting to collect dues, that will go to a future mutual aid fund.

"When we are able to help anyone with short-term rent, buy them some time, we want to make sure that we have a little pot of collective money," said Grinde.

It's a potential solution, for people like Vaughn.

"This is my life, thank you. And I'm willing to do whatever I can to solve the situation," she said. "I heard there's something about a union possibly of tenants, oh yes, oh baby, why hasn't this happened before?"

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Learn more about the Missoula Tenants Union at https://www.montananeighborsunited.com/. There you join their email list to stay up to date. People can also attend Meetings at the start of each month at the Missoula Public library.

In Montana, renters facing unfair evictions can also seek legal recourse. Legal resources can be found by contacting the Montana Legal Services Association and the Montana Eviction Intervention Project.