Emergency Housing Payment Assistance during COVID-19

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

This is a historical page about the Eviction Diversion Initiative and federally-funded emergency housing payment assistance programs during COVID-19. If you are a renter, landlord, or homeowner currently seeking assistance please click here.

Table of Contents

Eviction Diversion Initiative and Federal Emergency Housing Payment Assistance Programs

In October 2020, the Baker-Polito Administration launched the Eviction Diversion Initiative (EDI), a comprehensive set of resources to support tenants and landlords during the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of this initiative was to keep tenants safely in their homes and to support the ongoing expenses of landlords once the pause of evictions and foreclosures expired on Saturday, October 17, 2020.

This initiative consisted of an expansion of existing state programs, including the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs), and the Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP), as well as the creation of new programs including mediation, legal services, and the federal emergency housing payment assistance programs.

  • 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 included the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA), and the Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) programs.
  • 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.

The ERMA program closed in December 2021, and the ERAP and SHERA programs closed in April 2022. The Eviction Diversion Initiative ended from an administrative perspective in June 2022, but state programs like RAFT, mediation, and legal services continue to be available. For summary statistics about the Massachusetts COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Initiative, visit our Eviction Diversion Initiative Dashboard

Details on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) stopped accepting new applications on April 15, 2022. 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 had the following program requirements as of April 15, 2022:

  • 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 had to have been accrued after March 13, 2020.
  • COVID-19 Impact:  Households had to attest to a financial hardship during or due to the pandemic, such as 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.
  • 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.
  • Tenant Payments: Most payment were made directly to landlords. However, in accordance with US Treasury Guidance, some ERAP payments were 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 in the program.

According to FAQs issued by the IRS, Federal emergency rental assistance payments were not considered as taxable income.

The Federal government provided ERA 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 ERA 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.

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

The Subsidized Housing Emergency Rental Assistance (SHERA) program stopped accepting new applications on April 15, 2022. 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 attest 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.

  • 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.
  • Income Eligibility: SHERA had the same income eligibility as ERAP (up to 80% AMI). Tenants must have been living in qualified public/local housing authorities and affordable housing.

The SHERA program requirements and materials are archived here.

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

The Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) program launched in July 2020 and closed on December 31, 2021. ERMA was a federally-funded emergency housing payment assistance program for renters and homeowners impacted by COVID-19.​  ERMA had the following program requirements as of December 31, 2021:

  • Benefits: ERMA could provide 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.
  • Income Eligibility: Renters and homeowners applying for assistance under ERMA could earn up to 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). 
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