Emergency Housing Payment Assistance during COVID-19

The Department of Housing and Community Development provided vital aid to families in need during the COVID-19 health crisis.

DHCD's federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA) stopped taking new applications on April 15, 2022. Applications received by April 15th, 2022 will be considered for ERAP until all funds have been allocated. Applications for rental assistance received after April 15th will be considered for assistance under the more targeted state-funded Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, subject to funding availability. Households can apply by submitting an online application. The state RAFT program may provide up to $7,000 for rent and other housing costs, including moving expenses. Homeowners can continue to access the federal Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF).  

Free legal aid is available to assist low-income tenants with referrals, legal information, and legal representation for evictions statewide. More information is available here, or you can go to https://hedfuel.azurewebsites.net/ to find a legal aid program near you. Massachusetts Community Mediation Centers also offer free pre-court mediation between landlords and tenants for COVID-19 related lease disputes in addition to the summary process cases referred through the courts. 

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Federal Emergency Housing Payment Assistance Programs Provided Rent, Utilities, and Mortgage Support

During the COVID-19 crisis, federal emergency housing payment assistance programs provided crucial support in rental, mortgage and utilities assistance to residents across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These programs supported MA residents who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing assistance to those who lost their jobs or income, struggled to make rent, mortgage, or utilities payments, and/or were at risk of becoming homeless. These programs included the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA), and the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs.

For summary statistics about the Massachusetts COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Initiative, including the ERAP, SHERA, and ERMA programs, visit our Eviction Diversion Initiative Dashboard

Details on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was administered by Regional Administering Agencies (RAAs) and leveraged federal funding for eligible low-income tenants  in need of emergency rental assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. ERAP provided up to 18 months of help with overdue and/or future rent (due on or after 3/13/20), as well as help with utility costs. Applicants had to show they experienced a COVID-related financial hardship.  

What were the program requirements for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program?

ERAP was a federal disaster relief program and as of April 15, 2022 had the following program requirements: : 

  • Benefits: Under ERAP, eligible households  could qualify for up to eighteen (18) months of rental arrears and/or future rent with no dollar limit, as well as overdue utilities arrears up to $2,500. Eligible applicants who did not receive federal housing subsidies (i.e. Section 8) could qualify for future rent stipends. To qualify for future rent stipends, at least one month’s arrearage was required (unless moving due to health/safety crisis, overcrowding, doubled up, etc.) All rent and utility arrears must have been accrued after 3/13/20.
  • COVID-19 impact:  Households had to provide a statement attesting to unemployment, decreased wages, or increased expenses due to COVID-19. COVID-19 impact could be indirect, and included cases where a household was either directly impacted by COVID-19 OR had been affected by related issues since March 2020. This could have included losing a job, having hours reduced, losing access to childcare or dependent care, seeing increased expenses, or something else. Documentation was not required.
  • Higher Benefit and Longer-term relief: Households could qualify for up to eighteen (18) months of rental arrears and/or future rent, as well as overdue utilities arrears up to $2,500. Applicants who did 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.   
  • ERAP Income Eligibility: Renters applying for assistance under ERAP could earn up to 80% of Area Median Income (AMI).  If an adult in the household had zero income, their zero income status could be self-attested in the application and did not require additional documentation. Use Limits: With ERAP, renters could only receive help with rent and utilities accrued since March 13, 2020.
  • Tenant Payments: In accordance with US Treasury Guidance, ERAP payments could be made directly to tenants when the landlord was 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 confirmed in writing that they chose not to participate.

 

According to FAQs issued by the IRS,  Federal emergency rental assistance payments are not considered as taxable income. The FAQs can be viewed here

For ERAP, the Federal government provided funds for emergency rent and utility assistance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and also directly to the City of Boston. The City of Boston ran their own program to cover Boston residents—Boston residents could apply to either the city or the state program, but could not receive benefits from both programs at the same time.   Information on housing stability in the City of Boston, including rental assistance, can be found here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/housing/office-housing-stability

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

Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA), was a federally-funded emergency rental assistance program which allowed 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 committed to divert evictions through industry best practices and a six-month protection against eviction for non-payment of rent for participating residents. These steps were essential in ensuring stable housing for residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Households had to provide a statement attesting to unemployment, decreased wages, or increased expenses due to COVID-19. COVID-19 impact could be indirect, and included cases where a household was either directly impacted by COVID-19 OR had been affected by related issues since March 2020. This could include losing a job, having hours reduced, losing access to childcare or dependent care, seeing increased expenses, or something else. Documentation was not required.

  • Income Eligibility: Same income eligibility as ERAP (up to 80% AMI). The program was for tenants living in qualified public/local housing authorities and affordable housing.
  • Benefits: SHERA was able to 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 were encouraged to apply for financial assistance directly through their local Regional Administering Agency.

The SHERA program requirements are available in more detail here.

Details on the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program

  • The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program was a federally funded emergency housing assistance program for homeowners impacted by COVID-19.​ ERMA launched in July 2020 and closed on December 31, 2021 .  As of December 2021, ERMA had the following program requirements: Income Eligibility: Renters and homeowners applying for assistance under ERMA could earn up to 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). 
  • Benefits: ERMA provided up to $10,000 in rental or mortgage assistance for eligible households. Note, once ERAP launched ERMA was prioritized for applicants with mortgage arrears or needing assistance with future mortgage payments.
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