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Emergency Housing Payment Assistance during COVID-19

The Department of Housing and Community Development is ready to help families in need during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Table of Contents

Get help now with rent and mortgage payments

Are you having trouble paying your rent or mortgage because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Have you lost your job or lost income during the Covid-19 health crisis? Are you at risk of becoming homeless?

You may be eligible to receive help with paying your rent or mortgage. The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) offers programs that can assist low-income households. Find Spanish language resources about these programs.

Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program may provide up to 18 months of help with overdue and/or future rent (due on or after 3/13/20)​as well as some help with utility costs.  Applicants must have had a COVID-related financial hardship. For those that do not qualify for ERAP,  the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs may provide income-eligible households with up to $10,000 to pay overdue or future rent, or mortgage ​or utility costs. There is one application for all three programs, staff at regional agencies will determine your eligibility.

Landlords and tenants who do not have a written lease can document their agreement by using a simple Tenancy at Will Form (available in multiple languages at link), or another form of written documentation.

It is very important you complete your application to the fullest extent possible when you submit. 

Please use the tool linked below to find your regional agency and see the income limits for eligibility in your region based on household size. You can also call 2-1-1 for more information.

Submitting a complete application when applying for housing assistance

If you want to remain in your current home but owe past due rent, you may apply directly to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program for help. Both tenants and landlords on behalf of tenants can apply, but a COMPLETE application must be submitted to expedite the process of getting funding awarded. An incomplete application will result in a delay in applicants getting the support they need.

Am I qualified?  

To qualify for rental assistance in Massachusetts, you must have an income no more than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), and you must be able to prove a financial hardship related to COVID-19 and be at risk of homelessness or housing instability.  

What documents are required when submitting an application? 

To submit a complete application for rental assistance, you must include:  

  • I.D. for the Head of Household with the full name and date of birth (For example: state issued driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport) 

  • Proof of current housing, such as a lease, tenancy agreement or a tenancy at-will form 

  • Verification of housing crisis, such as a notice of arrears or balance overdue, court summons, notice to quit, notice of eviction, or a letter from host if doubled up 

  • Verification of income 

    • You are presumed eligible if you are receiving benefits from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) or MassHealth 

    • You can provide an income eligibility form from one of the following programs: public housing, Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), state housing vouchers (MRVP, AHVP, DMH, or DDS), LIHEAP, subsidized childcare, or Veterans Chapter 115 

    • You can verify your annual income by submitting the 2020 Form 1040 (s), or you can verify your monthly income by two paystubs from the past 60 days, plus the your most recent benefit letters (such as social security, child support, or unemployment) 

Do I need to let my landlord know I am applying for rental assistance?  

Yes. Let your landlord know you are planning to apply, as they will need to provide the following documents in order to receive payment: 

  • W-9 for property owner or authorized agent of the property owner, like a property manager 

  • Proof of ownership for unit 

What if my landlord does not respond, or refuses to participate in the program?

If your landlord is unresponsive or refuses to participate in the program, options are available. Beginning June 28, 2021, Regional Administering Agencies (RAA) may make rent payments directly to tenants under certain circumstances. Learn more from your RAA.

Details on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)

The new Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) leverages new federal funding for eligible low-income tenants who are in need of financial assistance. With the launch of the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, applicants should not notice significant changes in the application process, and may be eligible to receive funds from either ERAP, RAFT, or ERMA.

How does the new Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program differ from RAFT and ERMA?

There are key differences in program requirements: 

  • COVID-19 Impact: Households must provide a statement attesting to unemployment, decreased wages, or increased expenses due to COVID-19. Households must provide a brief description of their COVID-19-related hardship on the application, but they do not need to provide verification of the hardship outside of this attestation. Documentation of the hardship may be requested at a later time for monitoring and/or audit purposes. 
  • Higher Benefit and Longer-term relief: Households may be eligible for up to eighteen (18) months of rental arrears and/or future rent, as well as overdue utilities arrears up to $1,500. Applicants who do not receive federal housing subsidies (i.e. Section 8) may be eligible for future rent stipends. All rent and utility arrears must have been accrued after 3/13/20.   
    • Under RAFT/ERMA, renters and landlords may receive up to $10,000 during state of emergency and up to $7,000 for six months after end of state of emergency.
  • Higher income eligibility: Renters applying for assistance may earn up to 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Visit our agency locator to determine a region’s AMI. If an adult in the household has zero income, their zero income status may be self-attested in the application and does not require additional documentation. 
  • For comparison, RAFT has an income eligibility limit of 50% AMI (60% for Domestic Violence); ERMA has the same eligibility limit of 80% AMI.
  • Use limits: Renters may only receive help with rent and utilities accrued since March 13, 2020.
  • Tenant payments: In accordance with US Treasury Guidance, ERAP payments will be made directly to tenants when the landlord is non-responsive after 7 days to a letter sent via certified US postal mail with return receipt requested; non-responsive to three (3) phone, email, or text messaging attempts over 5 days; OR when landlord confirms in writing that they choose not to participate.

The IRS has issued FAQs that state that the IRS does not consider Federal emergency rental assistance payments to be taxable income. You can view those here

RAFT/ERMA can help with mortgage payments. Additionally, RAFT/ERMA can also provide assistance regardless of COVID-19 impacts.

RAFT/ERMA applications may also be considered for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP); no additional or separate application is required. ERAP includes benefits that can exceed $10,000 and include slightly different eligibility requirements, along with a preference for households with one or more members that have been unemployed 90 days or more at the time of application or who have income below 50% of the Area Median Income. We will match you with the most appropriate program based on your needs and circumstances, and may ask additional questions beyond those in the application.  

You can find the above paragraph in the following languages here in Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Khmer/Cambodian, Russian, and Vietnamese.

Important Information for Boston tenants: The Federal government is providing funds for emergency rent and utility assistance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and also directly to the City of Boston. The City of Boston is setting up their own program to cover Boston residents.  If you live in Boston, you may wish to apply to their program. 

You cannot receive assistance from both the City and the State at the same time. This is only applicable to tenants living in the city of Boston

Details on the RAFT and ERMA programs

Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Program

The RAFT program helps keep households in stable housing situations when facing eviction, foreclosure, loss of utilities, and other housing emergencies caused by loss of income, increase in expenses, or both. RAFT helps all kinds of households by providing up to $10,000 per household to help preserve current housing or move to new housing.

Funding can be used for a variety of needs, including rent or mortgage arrears, security deposits, or other expenses to help households obtain or maintain stable housing. Households with incomes up to 50% of Area Median Income (AMI)*, or 60% of AMI for people who are at risk of homelessness because of domestic violence, are eligible for assistance.

Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program (ERMA)

ERMA can provide rental and mortgage assistance to low-income households who have been impacted by the crisis and may not be eligible for RAFT. This program is available for households within the 50-80% range of Area Median Income (AMI). Like RAFT, ERMA may provide up to $10,000 for eligible households to assist with rent or mortgage arrears accrued after April 1, 2020 and/or with upcoming rent or mortgage payments.

Use the agency lookup tool above to determine regional income levels to assess their eligibility. These can also be found here: ERMA Area Median Income Information.

Foreclosure and forbearance information for homeowners

Beyond the financial assistance available through RAFT and ERMA detailed above, there are additional resources available for homeowners concerned about paying their mortgage due to the coronavirus national emergency. It is important that you contact your mortgage servicer (the company where you send your monthly payments) as soon as possible to let them know about your current circumstances.

The Federal CARES Act provides protections for owner-occupants of 1-4 family properties with mortgages that are federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) backed or funded (FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac). You can learn about your options, find out if you quality, and request forbearance or mortgage relief by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

A forbearance means that the monthly mortgage payments that you would otherwise have been required to pay to your lender/servicer are not required to be made for a period of 180 days. If your mortgage was not in default prior to the forbearance period, the mortgage will not go into default by reason of your missed monthly mortgage payments during the 180-day forbearance period. A forbearance does not mean that these monthly mortgage payments are forgiven. You still owe the mortgage loan payments, but they will be added to the end of the mortgage loan term

It is also important to remember that a forbearance is not automatic. You need to contact your lender/servicer to request a forbearance and affirm that you have experienced a negative financial impact due to COVID-19.

Remember, you may also be eligible for mortgage assistance under the state’s RAFT or ERMA program.  Contact your regional housing agency, where you can connect to various resources, including emergency assistance for eligible owner-occupants of 1-4 family homes. You can find your regional housing agency by clicking here or call 2-1-1 for more information.

The Massachusetts Division of Banks has compiled an extensive list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the eviction and foreclosure moratorium for more detailed information.

Federal Resources

A federal law passed on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, puts in place protections for homeowners with mortgages that are federally or Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) backed or funded (FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac).

If your ability to pay your mortgage is impacted, and your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (use the "loan lookup" tools for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to find out), you may be eligible to delay making your monthly mortgage payments for a temporary period

You can learn about your options, find out if you quality, and request forbearance or mortgage relief by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Helpful Links

Details on the Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA) Program

Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA), is a federally-funded emergency rental assistance program which allows qualified Public / Local Housing Authorities and owners of affordable housing properties to apply online for Emergency Rental Assistance on behalf of multiple residents in a single application to expedite relief for residents. 

Participating owners commit to divert evictions through industry best practices and a six-month protection against eviction for non-payment of rent for participating residents. These steps are essential in ensuring stable housing for residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

SHERA can cover the tenant’s portion of unpaid rent for up to 18 months, beginning on or after April 1, 2020. For assistance with unpaid rent from other periods or with expenses such as overdue utility bills, renters are encouraged to apply for assistance directly through their local Regional Administering Agency (find your regional agency here:  

The SHERA program requirements are available in more detail in the documents below. If you are a tenant and interested in learning whether the program can assist you, please contact your property manager.