Article Index

Housing assistance programs

A chronically-ill person who is no longer able to work and must rely on a Social Security program for income assistance or even a person on long-term disability (LTD), may at some point find s/he is no longer able to meet their housing costs. Patients, especially those on Social Security, often find that their monthly check is simply inadequate to pay their rent or mortgage, as well as their other basic costs of living.

Home-owner programs

For those individuals who have difficulty meeting their mortgage payments, help is available. Go to Mass211 search page and search on "mortgages-foreclosure."

The state agency HomeCorps is under the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General. It has a website and a telephone hotline 617-573-5333. As its website states, the purpose of HomeCorps is threefold:

  • "The Loan Modification Initiative offers direct loan modification advocacy to distressed Massachusetts borrowers, in order to help many residents avoid unnecessary foreclosure.  The Initiative is staffed by a statewide team of skilled Loan Modification Specialists."
  • "The Borrower Representation Initiative will provide direct legal representation to distressed borrowers, with the goals of resolving legal issues preventing loan modifications, blocking unlawful foreclosures and pursuing other potential claims. Attorneys at civil legal aid offices across the state will be funded by HomeCorps to provide these legal services at no charge to qualifying borrowers."
  • "The Community Based HomeCorps program will work directly with families and individuals facing foreclosure as well as provide referral services for families who need to transition from homeownership. The goals are to expand the network of providers using the AGO HomeCorps mediation model while assisting former homeowners in preventing homelessness. Staff at selected nonprofit organizations statewide will provide loan modification application assistance and referral to stabilization services as well as available benefit programs and financial counseling providers."

Subsidized rental housing

Many disabled individuals on Social Security or long-term disability insurance find they must seek federally or state subsidized rental housing. Subsidized apartments are provided under a variety of state and federal programs—however, most operate by paying, or subsidizing, a substantial portion of the tenant's monthly rental payment. Under most of the programs, an income-eligible tenant will pay 30%-40% of their monthly income toward their rental payment, and the state or federal government will pay the remainder to the owner. Most of the programs set a limit on the monthly cost of apartments for which subsidies can be provided.

Many of the different programs are found by searching on the Mass211 website under the various suggested terms under Housing.  A good resource is a booklet, "How to Obtain Housing Assistance," published by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. You can also call the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development in Boston to obtain a copy.

Another excellent resource are the Massachusetts Housing Consumer Education Centers throughout the state. The Boston Center is the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership at www.mbhp.org. Their telephone number is 617-425-6700.

Forms of subsidized rental housing

There are three general forms of subsidized rental housing:

1) Housing developments owned and managed by local Public Housing Authorities in Massachusetts cities and towns. These developments contain apartments for families, the elderly and the disabled who are income-eligible.

2) Privately-owned developments containing subsidized apartment units. These developments are owned by private companies and contain a certain number of subsidized rental units. An income-eligible individual seeking a subsidized rental unit will apply directly to the specific development.

3) Rental Vouchers (or Certificates)Rental vouchers are "mobile," meaning the individual is not limited to finding an apartment in a specific development, but may seek an apartment on the private rental market which meets certain specifications and standards. There will be a ceiling on the amount of monthly rent for the size of the apartment, the apartment must meet the state sanitary code, and the landlord must be willing to accept the voucher.

There are separate voucher programs funded by the federal and Massachusetts state governments. Certain voucher programs give priorities to individuals in particular categories, including the disabled, and either the homeless or people in danger of becoming homeless. Vouchers are available in Massachusetts from both 8 Regional Non-Profit housing agencies and 112 Local Housing Authorities

Each of the three types of subsidized rental programs will now be summarized.

Public housing

Local public housing authorities own public housing developments/projects. Apartments in these developments are generally reserved for the elderly, disabled and low-income and moderate-income families. Some developments are specifically for the elderly and disabled. There are income eligibility and asset guidelines, and a disabled person must present evidence of their disability.

The quality of the housing, and of the life in the development, is often specific to the particular development or the community in which it is located. Most public housing authorities have waiting lists, and an individual may or may not have a choice of which development they are assigned to. In many cities or towns in Massachusetts, elderly and disabled public housing developments may be more than acceptable places to live. In general, a tenant will pay about 30% of their income for rent. Applications are made to individual housing authorities. An individual should survey various public housing developments in different locales. Often waiting lists are long, so if you can get on several waiting lists, so much the better. If you are in an emergency—about to be evicted—most Authorities provide emergency housing on an expedited basis. There are 253 local Public Housing Authorities in Massachusetts. You can obtain a list via the web link in the booklet "How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts", given above. You may also call PHA Info: 1-800-955-2232.

Privately-owned developments with federal or state subsidized rental units

Various privately-owned apartment complexes set aside a percentage of subsidized apartments for disabled and other individuals with low and moderate incomes. You apply to the rental office at the development. If you are accepted, you pay about 30%+ of your monthly income to rent the apartment. You should apply to as many developments acceptable to you as possible, since the length of waiting lists will vary for different developments in different localities.

These privately-owned apartment developments fall into two categories—the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) federally-subsidized developments, and the Massachusetts Housing Agency state subsidized developments. Each agency publishes a separate list of developments in Massachusetts cities and towns that the agency subsidizes. Each list describes, by city and town, the address of the development, the number and size of the units, and whether subsidized units are set aside for the disabled, the elderly, and/or families.

You can obtain both the HUD list and the Massachusetts Housing list from these agencies in Boston. On the web, for HUD listings in Massachusetts by city and town, you can go to http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/massachusetts/offices . Or you can call 1-800-569-4287, and ask for the HUD list for Massachusetts. For the Mass. Housing list, call 617-854-1185, or go to www.masshousing.com .

Tenant-based or "mobile" housing vouchers

Housing Vouchers provide financial aid to help low-income persons rent apartments other than apartments in specific projects or developments. An income-eligible tenant who receives a voucher may find an apartment in any city or town up to a specified rental ceiling depending on the number of rooms and family size. The apartment must be up to the housing code; and the landlord must be willing to accept the voucher. Both the federal government and the Massachusetts state government offer a number of voucher programs.

Section 8 Housing Choice voucher

The federal government through H.U.D. administers this program. You will need to obtain program information as to income eligibility. Generally, under this program the tenant will pay between 30-40% of their income toward the total monthly rent. The voucher will pay the remainder. Both the Regional Non-Profit Housing Agencies and Local Housing Authorities are given section 8 vouchers to provide to eligible persons. "If you apply to any one of the regional non-profit agencies, your name will be placed on a statewide Section 8 waiting list maintained by the [Massachusetts] Department of Housing and Community Development. These waiting lists can be quite long...", but these lists are always open. (from "How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts"). You can obtain applications at www.mass.gov/dhcd A list of Regional Housing Agencies in Massachusetts can also be obtained by calling 1-800-224-5124.

"You can also apply to any of the local housing authorities to find out how to submit an application. There is now a centralized waiting list in which 43 local housing authorities participate. You need only to apply to one of these authorities  to be considered by all 43 authorities...You may also apply to each housing authority that does not participate in the centralized list." (From "How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts"). Some local authorities may not participate in the section 8 program or their lists may be closed. For a recorded listing of authorities accepting applications call 508-778-7507, ext. 4.

Different agencies may establish somewhat different preferences, including local residency, individuals who are disabled and homeless, involuntarily displaced persons, etc. The individual should learn about these preferences when applying.

The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and the Massachusetts Alternative Voucher Program

These state-funded voucher programs, again, are provided by both Regional Housing non-profits and local housing authorities (see above for phone numbers and web addresses.) The Rental Voucher program income eligibility standard is not to exceed 50% of the Area Median Income. Tenants pay between 30-40% of the monthly rent. Due to long waiting lists, the ability to apply is periodically frozen.

The Alternative Voucher Program was established specifically for disabled people under 60 years of age who are eligible to live in elderly/disabled state assisted public housing.

Income guidelines vary from year to year. AVP recipients pay 25% of their income toward the monthly rent. For more information on this program call 617-573-1150.

Other housing resources

The City of Boston operates the Metrolist, "a centralized listing service of both rental and homeownership opportunities." Call them at: 617-635-3321.

Elderly persons can call the Statewide Elder Hotline at 1-800-882-2003 and the Massachusetts Dept. of Elder Affairs at 617-727-7750.

For the DisabledThe Citizens Housing and Planning Association's Mass Access Program helps people with disabilities find accessible housing. To search their registry, visit their website, or call 617-338-6665.  Also the Massachusetts Office on Disability, 1-800-727-5608, and the Independent Living Information Center 1-800-462-5015 can provide information on housing for the disabled.

For the HomelessContact the Department of Transitional Assistance or call their hotline: 1-800-445-6604. The Department will determine if you are eligible for the Housing Assistance Program. If you need temporary shelter, ask for a list of shelter referral services and the list of temporary shelters.

Another Housing option is Supportive Housing and Long Term Care. See Mass211.  One program is Affordable Assisted Living which is housing with support services for low-income adults who cannot live on their own.

A second option is Congregate Housing which is multi-unit housing with support services for elders and disabled persons who do not want to live alone. It combines privacy and companionship, by offering each resident a private bedroom or apartment, and shared living space and activities. Another variant is Co-Housing.