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Construction costs, labor shortage leaves hundreds of flood-impacted families stuck in the cold

300 families report needing repair work on their homes before they can live in them this winter
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Posted at 10:08 AM, Dec 14, 2022

BILLINGS — Hundreds of families impacted by historic flooding in June are not recovering fast enough to beat the winter cold.

The Montana Deptartment of Commerce sent a release in early November calling for support for 300 families who reported their homes needed repair work before being habitable.

Case manager Megan Castle with Gallatin United Way distributes relief funding to families. She says many report unstable housing situations due to a delay in repair work, costs of materials, and the cold temperatures now driving them into temporary set-ups.

“A lot of people now, with winter and it getting a lot colder, are finding more temporary housing solutions like airstreams, or campers, or mobile homes outside of their permanent residence. A lot of the time they don’t have plumbing, they don’t have running water, alot of the time. Some of them have heat, some of them don’t. It kind of just depends on the financial situation and the location of a lot of the people living in these temporary places,” Castle said.

The soaring costs of construction work and the shortage of labor in Montana didn’t spare this group.

“Everything was more expensive than it was supposed to be. They would request like $5,000 dollars because they thought that's all (the damage) they had and then they would contact us a couple weeks later and be like, ‘I don’t want to be greedy, I know other people need it more, but I just realized, I had a contractor look at it…I have like $40,000 worth of damage,’” Castle said.

The Human Resource Development Council is helping with rent relief and other services in southwest Montana where the lack of middle-income and affordable housing set the stage for the struggle for these families.

“Crisis was here before COVID, and we were seeing different conditions. COVID exacerbated that. Now what we’re seeing is families either losing their homes, it could be natural disaster, whether that’s fire or flood, they also lose their home because they were in a long-term rental and it was sold, and oftentimes what we’re seeing is, their rent went up by six hundred or eight hundred dollars per month and it wasn’t something they could continue to pay,” said Heather Grenier, HDRC CEO.

HDRC received a $5 million grant from the Bezos foundation a few weeks ago. They plan to construct shelters and other housing options because Grenier says it's taking families 12 to 18 months to find a place to live.