This reference guide, provided by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is for Massachusetts residents seeking information on housing for low and moderate income families and individuals. Most housing in Massachusetts is rented or sold through the private real estate market. However, there are numerous agencies and organizations that provide lower cost, subsidized housing for those who cannot afford market rate rents or home prices.
There are different types of low cost housing such as subsidized rental housing, public housing and homeownership opportunities for low-income, first time home buyers. Many of these housing units are subsidized by the federal government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or non profit or community organizations.
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State Aided Public Housing
There are approximately 90,000 units of state and federally assisted public housing in Massachusetts. Public housing developments are apartments that are built and subsidized by either the state or federal government and are managed by local housing authorities. There are 253 local housing authorities in Massachusetts.
There are different types of public housing available such as housing for families, elderly persons, and certain persons with disabilities. Supportive housing with assisted living services for elderly and disabled persons and congregate housing is also available in some cities and towns. There is a very small amount of public housing available to single persons. To find out what is available in each town, please call your local housing authority.
Eligibility: To be eligible to live in state public housing a household must typically earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income. Income guidelines vary from year to year and region to region. Ask the housing authority you are applying to what the income guidelines are in its region or visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website at www.hud.gov. To live in state assisted elderly public housing, you must be at least 60 years old. If you are a person with a disability, you must meet certain criteria to be eligible for state or federal housing for disabled persons.
Rent: The rent a public housing tenant pays is based on household income and whether the costs of utilities (electricity, heat, cooking fuel) are included.
Tenants residing in elderly/handicapped public housing pay:
30 percent of net income where the tenant does not pay for utilities
25 percent of net income where the tenant pays for some or all utilities
Tenants residing in family public housing pay:
32 percent of net income where the tenant does not pay for utilities
30 percent of net income where the tenant pays for some (but not all) utilities
27 percent of net income where the tenant pays for all utilities
How to apply for state public housing: You must put your name on a waiting list that is kept by the local housing authority. Applicants may put their name on more than one waiting list if they qualify for more than one program. Waiting lists for public housing tend to be long. When your name comes to the top of the list, the housing authority will contact you. Be sure to notify a housing authority if you change your address while you are waiting for a public housing unit.
Public Housing Preferences:
The following are among the persons given preference for public housing units over other applicants:
Persons who are homeless due to natural disasters
Persons who are homeless due to public action
Persons with emergency needs (such as domestic violence victims, persons with medical emergencies, or homeless persons facing an immediate threat to their health and safety)
There are also preferences for veterans and local residents. For more details, consult a local housing authority.
Federal Public Housing: For information about eligibility requirements, rents, preferences and applications, please call your local housing authority. You may also visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website at www.hud.gov for more information.
Regional Non Profit Agency Listing
Rental Assistance Applications and Documentation
Locate a Service Provider Listing
Rental assistance programs provide financial aid to help low-income persons rent apartments other than apartments in public housing developments. There are several types of rental assistance in Massachusetts. The three largest programs are: The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP), the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP). The federal government funds the Section 8 assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Commonwealth funds the MRVP and AHVP programs.
Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
The federal government provides the funds for Section 8. Recipients receive their benefits through local housing authorities (LHAs) or regional housing agencies. There are approximately 72,000 people receiving Section 8 rental assistance in Massachusetts. The United States Congress periodically makes more money available to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to fund additional vouchers.
Eligibility: Eligibility is based on gross income. 75 percent of all households selected to receive Section 8 must have incomes within 30 percent of the area median income ($24,800 for a family of four in Boston). 25 percent of Section 8 households can have incomes up to 50 percent of the median ($41,350 for a family of four). In some instances these limits can go as high as 80 percent of median ($66,150 for a family of four in Boston) although very few housing agencies serve households with this income at this limit. Income limits vary depending on the number of persons in the household and the region in which they live at the time they are selected for assistance. For a listing of income limits by city/town, you may visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website.
Rents: Section 8 recipients generally pay between 30 percent and 40 percent of their income for rent. The Section 8 voucher pays the difference between the rent charged by the landlord and the tenant's contribution to the rent.
How to apply for Section 8: You may apply to any one of the regional non-profit agencies. If you apply to one of the regional housing agencies, your name will be placed on a statewide Section 8 waiting list maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Development. These waiting lists are quite long. The regional housing agency lists are always open. You may also obtain applications online at www.mass.gov/dhcd.
You may also call any of the local housing authorities to find out how to submit an application. There is now a centralized waiting list in which 86 local housing authorities participate. You need only to apply to one of these authorities to be considered by all 86 authorities. To obtain an application or to apply online for the centralized waiting list visit www.section8listmass.org, You may also apply to each housing authority that does not participate in the centralized list. Please note that some local housing authorities either do not have a Section 8 program or their waiting lists may be closed.
Preferences: Some housing agencies establish their own Section 8 preferences. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) does not use any preferences for any applicant with an income that is 30% or less than the area median income. However, any applicant with a higher income must meet one of the following three preferences:
Involuntarily displaced due to fire, natural disaster, government action, domestic violence, landlord action, having a disability or threats as a result of witnessing a crime;
Living in substandard housing or being homeless (such as living in a shelter or an apartment with serious code violations);
Paying more than 50 percent of your income for rent for more than 90 days.
Section 8 programs administered by local housing authorities often have a preference for local residents. Section 8 programs administered by regional housing agencies have a regional residency preference.
All housing authority selection policies, including preferences, must be stated in their Annual Public Housing Plan and the agency's Section 8 Administration Plan. Both documents can be obtained by calling the housing agency or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 617-994-8200.
Some administering agencies collaborate with other organizations to provide special Section 8 programs designed especially for families, battered women with children, homeless disabled persons and families, veterans, elderly persons raising young children, veterans with substance abuse disorders, and persons with HIV/AIDS. For more information, please ask your service provider.
The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides rental assistance through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). The program is funded annually by the state legislature. State funded "mobile" vouchers can be used anywhere in Massachusetts, but "project-based" vouchers are only available in specific apartments. As of January 2004, most waiting lists are closed to new applicants.
Eligibility: Persons seeking state rental vouchers can earn no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Income limits are higher or lower, depending on the size of the household. The following chart shows the net income limits set effective as of April 1, 2006:
# of Household Members; 200% of Federally Established Poverty Level Standard for Massachusetts
8+ Add $ 7,200 for each additional household member
Rents: MRVP "mobile" voucher holders pay at least 30 percent but not more than 40 percent of household income as rent. Project based voucher holders pay 35 percent of their income for rent or 40 percent if heat is included in the rent. The voucher amount makes up the difference between what the landlord charges and what the tenant can pay. There are limits on the total rental amount.
How to apply for MRVP assistance: All of the regional non profit housing agencies administer the MRVP program.
Massachusetts Alternative Housing Voucher Program
The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) was created by the state legislature in 1995. It provides rental assistance to people with disabilities under age 60 who either live in, or are eligible to live in elderly/disabled state assisted public housing. The program has Legislative authority to provide funding for up to 800 vouchers.
Eligibility: Applicants must be under age 60 and eligible to
live in elderly/disabled state funded public housing. To be eligible to participate in AHVP a household must typically earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income. Income guidelines vary from year to year and region to region. Ask the housing authority you are applying to what the income guidelines are in its region or visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website at www.hud.gov.
Rents: AHVP recipients pay 25 percent of their income for rent if the rent includes some or none of the utilities, or 30 percent if all of the utilities are included in the rent. There are limits on the total rental amount.
How to apply for Alternative Housing Vouchers: Contact your local housing authority and ask if they have the program. For more information, call the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) at (617)-573-1150.
Other Rental Assistance Resources
For individuals and families: The Department of Housing and Community Development manages a number of rental housing programs, information about which can be obtained by calling (617) 573-1150.
MassHousing also maintains a list of rental housing developments that it has financed. Many units within MassHousing financed developments are reserved for low or moderate-income persons. For a free list of their rental properties, call (617) 854-1185 and request the Housing List or you may search for a unit online at their website.
The City of Boston operates a Metrolist, a centralized listing service of both rental and homeownership opportunities. Contact the Metrolist at (617) 635-3321 for more information.
For the elderly: Statewide Elder Hotline 1 800 882 2003
Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs (617) 727 7750
The Citizen's Housing and Planning Association's MassAccess registry provides listings of affordable rentals and sales.
For the disabled: MassAccess listings help people with disabilities find accessible housing.
Please visit or call the Independent Living Information Center: 1 800 462 5015
Massachusetts Office on Disability: 1-800-322-2020
For special needs housing:
Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (617) 626-8000
Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (617) 727-5608
For the homeless: Contact the nearest Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) office or call the hotline: 1-800-445-6604. DTA will determine if you are eligible for the Housing Assistance Program (HAP) services. If you need temporary shelter, see the list of shelter referral/placement services and the list of temporary shelters. The Homelessness Prevention Agency providers can also help you search for housing and help you become stabilized once you have found housing.
Homelessness Prevention Resources
Housing Consumer Education Centers - On-Site Training: The Department of Housing and Community Development funds the Housing Consumer Education Centers Initiative at its Regional Non-Profit Housing Agencies. The Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCEC) educate housing consumers on how to acquire the necessary tools to access appropriate services to meet specific housing needs and encourage people to become or remain self-sufficient. Each HCEC provider makes the following services available:
- housing-related training/education;
- information and referral;
- mediation/negotiation assistance;
- regional-specific programming.
For more information, please call 1-800-224-5124 or visit the Housing Consumer Education Centers website or contact the Division of Community Services at (617) 573-1400.
Lead Paint Removal
Department of Public Health:
Tenants' Rights/Responsibilities (for Private Renters)
Office of Attorney General
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
Housing Related Legal Assistance
Greater Boston Legal Services:
Housing Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence
If you are escaping from domestic violence, you should be eligible for assistance through the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), or the Department of Children and Families (DCF); access their web site.
Department of Transitional Assistance: The DTA has domestic violence specialists who assist battered women with the process of obtaining benefits and services. If you have not already done so, please consider calling the toll free, 24-hour domestic violence hotline (1-877-785-2020). The counselors who work on the hotline can assist you with safety planning, information on accessing public benefits and other services for battered women, ranging from shelters to transitional living programs.
Unfortunately, due to the limited availability of shelter beds and transitional programs for battered women, relocation is often required. However, all of the battered women's programs across the state do assist their clients with housing related issues, ranging from referrals to subsidized housing and housing search to legal advocacy.
Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development: Through the Bureau of Federal Rental Assistance, DHCD operates the following program for victims of domestic violence and their families:
- The Family Unification Program (FUP): FUP provides Section 8 vouchers to families with open cases with the Department of Children and Families. DCF makes all of the referrals for FUP.
Department of Children and Families: The Department of Children and Families operates the following programs:
- The Transition to Home Program provides housing advocacy and housing search services to families made homeless due to domestic violence. Referrals are made through DCF, DTA, battered women's programs, or shelters.
- The Scattered Site Transitional Apartment Program (SSTAP): SSTAP is a transitional housing program for families made homeless due to domestic violence. Referrals for SSTAP are made through the domestic violence specialists at DCF and the DTA, as well as local battered women's programs. The availability of SSTAP is very limited and there is a high likelihood of relocation. The majority of families referred to SSTAP come from domestic violence shelters.
Applications: The first step in accessing these programs is to call the domestic violence hotline, battered women's programs, or the domestic violence specialists at your local DCF or DTA offices. They can discuss options with you. If you need further assistance from DHCD, please call 617.573.1209.
Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-877-785-2020
Department of Transitional Assistance Hotline: 1-800-445-6604
Department of Children and Families Domestic Violence Unit: 617-748-2333 or access their web site.
There are a variety of programs available to help low or moderate income people purchase a home. Most programs are limited to first time home buyers.
The State Soft Second Mortgage Program
The Soft Second Mortgage Program is a state funded program that helps households earning approximately $48,000 or less purchase their first homes. The program requires a minimum 3 percent down payment. The state will subsidize a second mortgage on behalf of the homeowner who will also have a conventional mortgage. For further information: Contact the Massachusetts Housing Partnership at (617) 330 9955 or on the web at www.mhp.net. You may also call the Department of Housing and Community Development at (617) 573 1300.
Local Home Buyer Programs
The state annually awards funds to certain communities and non profit agencies that operate local first time home buyer programs. Funds are used to make down payments and closing costs assistance loans to first time home buyers with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median income ($66,150 for a family of four in the greater Boston area). First Time Home Buyer Program information.
Mass Housing is a quasi public state agency that provides below market-rate mortgage financing for first time home buyers, and other products (such as lead paint abatement and home improvement loans) for homeowners with moderate incomes. For further information: contact Mass Housing at (617) 854 1000 or on the web at www.masshousing.com.
Home Buyer Counseling
Some state and local agencies as well as non profits and banks offer courses on how to purchase your first home:
The Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae"): 1 800-732 6643
Mass Housing has a list of home buyer counseling agencies. Contact Mass Housing at (617) 854 1000 or www.masshousing.com.
The Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs) provides information and services for home buyers and homeowners. Click for the HCECs listing.
For further information on affordable housing and fair housing resources in the Commonwealth, click here