Guide A Guide to Obtaining Housing Assistance

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.

State Aided Public Housing

Public Housing Assistance Programs

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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
  • 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.

Rental Assistance

Rental Assistance Programs

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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

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 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

Apply for a Rental Voucher

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides rental assistance through the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). State funded "mobile" vouchers can be used anywhere in Massachusetts, but "project-based" vouchers are only available in specific apartments.

  • Eligibility - Applicants for state funded vouchers can earn no more than 50% Area Median Income (AMI). This may differ depending on the household size. Please visit HUD’s site at www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il.html for current Income limits.
  • 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.
  • How to apply for MRVP assistance - You may inquire at your Local Housing Authority to see if they have an open waiting list.

Massachusetts Alternative Housing Voucher Program

The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) provides rental assistance to people with disabilities under the age 60, who either live in, or are eligible to live in elderly/disabled state assisted public housing.

  • Eligibility - Applicants must be under the age 60 and eligible to live in elderly/disabled state funded public housing. Households must typically earn no more than 80 percent of average median income (AMI). However, this criteria may change annually or by region.
  • Rents - Recipients pay 25% of their income for rent (some utilities) or 30% if all utilities are included in the rent. The amount of rent is subject to limitations.
  • How to apply for AHVP - To apply, please contact your local housing authority and ask if they have the program. You may also ask the housing authority for their income guidelines. For more information, call the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) at (617)-573-1150.

Other Rental Assistance Resources

  • 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, or Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (617) 727-5608

Homelessness Prevention Resources

Housing Consumer Education Centers - Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCEC) are available to assist you in obtaining and maintaining your housing. HCEC’s assist tenants, landlords, homeowners/buyers and homeless households and individuals. You may find your designated HCEC by visiting www.masshousinginfo.org

  • Energy Assistance Programs
  • Lead Paint Removal
    • Department of Public Health
    • 1-800-532-9571
  • Tenants' Rights/Responsibilities (for Private Renters)
    • Office of Attorney General
    • (617) 727-8400
  • Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
    • (617) 727-3990
  • Housing Related Legal Assistance
    • Greater Boston Legal Services
    • (617) 371-1234

Housing Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence

  • 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.
  • Department of Children and Families: The Department of Children and Families operates the following programs:
    • 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.

Homeownership Opportunities

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.

My Mass Mortgage

From discovering what mortgage product would work best for your needs, to taking a first-time homebuyer course through finding and purchasing your new home, My Mass Mortgage is your guide for finding affordable and reliable state-sponsored mortgage products and ultimately the right place for you to call home. Please visit the website at http://www.mymassmortgage.org/

Mass Housing

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.

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