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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 Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General maintains a website, Mortgage Lending and Foreclosures, which provides information on preventing foreclosure and loan modification. You can also call 617-727-8400.

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.

There are several different forms of subsidized housing and most of them are either federally-funded or state-funded.

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. Developments are either federally-aided (through the Dept. of Urban Development – HUD) or state-aided. The state and federal programs may have different eligibility requirements and preferences.
  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 that meets certain specifications and standards. There will be a ceiling on the amount of monthly rent for the size and locale 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 also the homeless or people in danger of becoming homeless. Vouchers are available in Massachusetts from both eight Regional Non-Profit housing agencies and 112 Local Housing Authorities.

Housing counselling, and evictions, and homelessness

If you are in danger of homelessness or are homeless and need Emergency Shelter or Housing, the following resources are available:

Contact 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.

Also call your local Housing Authorities for Emergency Housing information.

City Life/Vida Urbana&emdash;Provides assistance with eviction and anticipated homelessness in Boston. Provides legal assistance and direct help with eviction problems. Also provides housing counselling.

Housing Related Legal Assistance: Greater Boston Legal Services (617) 371-1234

Housing and assistance to the Elderly—Central Boston Elder Services: This elderly assistance agency provides some counseling on obtaining housing.

Another 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.

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 life in the development is often specific to the particular development or the community in which it is located. In many cities or towns in Massachusetts, elderly and disabled public housing developments may be more than acceptable places to live.

Most public housing authorities have waiting lists, and an individual may or may not have a choice of which development they are assigned to by a specific authority.

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 of housing authorities in the booklet how to obtain housing assistance in Massachusetts.

The following websites provide information on the different aspects of public housing programs—including on-line applications:

public housing assistance programs: This web page provides basic information on the different state public housing programs including: an elderly/handicapped program for low income elderly and non-elderly handicapped persons, senior supportive housing for elderly and handicapped persons, and other programs, too.

The next two links describe how to apply for public housing programs and provide an online application:

How to Apply for Public Housing.

You can apply for state-aided public housing online at CHAMP (Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs)

This website provides the CHAMP common application for applying to most Massachusetts public housing authorities. in the CHAMP common application the person has to list the authorities to which they are applying, and the application will be forwarded to all the selected authorities. the individual sets up an online account for the application.

This application is also for the alternative voucher program (AHVP) which provides a “mobile” housing market for apartments on the private market for non-elderly disabled individuals. (More on vouchers below.)

Some housing authorities, including Boston, do not participate in the common CHAMP application. For each non-participating authority the individual will need to fill out a separate application.

Federally-aided public housing developments do not use the CHAMP application. These developments are administered by local housing authorities but are overseen by HUD. To obtain a list of these developments and applications go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your local housing authority can also provide information on their federally-assisted developments.

Rental Assistance Programs: These various programs administered by the federal government and by the state provide subsidies that are either for specific apartments in privately-owned developments or are “mobile” (vouchers), which can be used to find apartments on the private market.

An important resource for understanding these rental assistance programs is Massachusetts Government Rental Assistance Programs.

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— those subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and those subsidized by the Massachusetts Housing Agency.

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.

A listing for HUD-subsidized developments in Massachusetts (and in other states) can be obtained at Contact HUD: Massachusetts. Or you can call 1-800-569-4287, and ask for the HUD list for Massachusetts.

One major list of all the state-subsidized, privately-owned developments in Massachusetts is Massachusetts Housing List Search

The full list for Massachusetts lists over 800 developments by city and town. There is a separate list for Boston. The list provides the name of the management company that provides an application and the number of differently sized units.

It also contains a listing of the federal HUD developments.

The full Massachusetts list also provides links to many other invaluable housing subsidy resource links.

A person seeking subsidized housing should identify which cities or towns she or he would like to live in and then obtain the state and federal housing lists. he or she should apply to as many acceptable developments as possible since waiting lists can be longer or shorter.

No matter what type of housing one applies for s/he should always let the owner of the development or housing authority know of any change of address and phone so that he or she can be contacted when an apartment becomes available.

A truly incredible housing search list for privately and publicly owned developments is The Housing Works Search List.

There are over 44 different types of subsidized and affordable housing — and only Housing Works lets you search for all your options in one place.

More than 200,000 applicants have used our system to locate and apply to subsidized housing by working through a housing advocate or social service agency. countless others use the free search feature below.

This list allows the individual to put in their preferences for almost all subsidy programs – such as developments, vouchers, number of rooms, cities and towns, etc., elderly, disabled. There are photographs of many of the developments as well as applications that can be printed out.

This is a go-to resource for viewing all the different types of subsidized housing — and to be able start making choices for submitting applications. **

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.

To obtain full information on the different federal and state voucher programs, see the rental assistance section in How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts.

The Different Voucher Programs

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP): The federal government finances the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development provides administrative oversight. The program itself is operated through local housing authorities and eight Massachusetts regional non-profit housing agencies.

Income eligible households are issued a Section 8/HCVP Voucher. The family is then given up to 120 days to locate their own rental housing, which can be located anywhere in the country, or they can elect to remain in their current unit provided it meets program requirements. Rental units must meet minimum standards of health and safety. Rhe rent for the unit must be reasonable in comparison to rents charged for similar, unassisted apartments in the area. A rental subsidy is paid directly to the landlord on behalf of the participating family by the housing agency. The subsidy is determined by the family's income. The family pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the Section 8 program.

Eligibility for a housing voucher is determined by the total annual gross income and family size and is limited to U.S. citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status. In general, the family's income may not exceed 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which the family chooses to live. Priority is given to persons first with extremely low incomes, and then very low incomes. Vouchers are obtained from both any of the 112 individual public housing authorities in Massachusetts and the eight Regional Non-profit Housing Agencies.

How to apply:

Applicants may contact any one of DHCD's eight regional administering agencies to request an application, or a hard copy of the DHCD application may can be downloaded and then submitted to any of the regional agencies.

If you apply to one agency, your name will be placed on a state-wide waiting list maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. These waiting lists are quite long, but if you obtain a voucher from any of the regional housing agencies you can usually use it anywhere in the state. The regional housing lists are always open. A listing of the regional agencies can be found here

You should also apply to any of the local public housing authorities which also provide Section 8 vouchers – although waiting lists can be quite long. Some authorities do not provide vouchers or have closed their lists. There is now a centralized waiting list in which 98 of the 253 authorities participate – you need to apply to only one authority to be considered by all 86 authorities. To obtain an application or apply online for the centralized list go here.

You may also apply separately to each housing authority that does not participate in the centralized list.

Some of the agencies above establish preferences depending on a person’s income, involuntary displacement, domestic violence, landlord action, and/or having a disability. Also preferences are made for being homeless, paying more than 50% of income for rent. Some housing authority programs provide preferences for local residents. Other preferences also exist. Check for preferences with the agencies you apply to.

To learn about the status of Housing Choice Vouchers at each housing authority go here.

The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)

This program provides “mobile” vouchers that can be used anywhere in Massachusetts (but project-based vouchers are only available in specific developments, see above). For a description of the program see this site.

There are income and asset requirements for the program: Please visit HUD for current income limits.

This voucher program is administered by Local Housing Authorities. Some PHAs have less of a demand for these vouchers, so a person should apply to as many local PHAs where they might want to live. Some waiting lists are shorter than others and these vouchers may be more available than the HCVP Section 8 Vouchers. Each housing authority has a separate application. There is no centralized list.

A second voucher program operated by the state is:

The alternative housing voucher program (AHVP), which 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.

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.

There are many separate housing resources available to assist people with the above programs and to provide other housing assistance:

MassAccess is a resource for assisting disabled persons find the housing they need. It is operated by the Citizen's Housing and Planning Association. MassAccess provides listings of affordable rentals and sales. Their phone is 617-742-0820.

Especially useful for the disabled in finding housing is their Housing Search Guide for People With Disabilities.

“This book provides information about searching for rental housing in Massachusetts for people who have one or more disabilities. Most of the information is also helpful to people who are low-income. The book provides a guide to steps in the housing search. It explains the types of housing available, including subsidized housing. The book provides resources for locating housing and for help from housing advocates.”

Another excellent resource is the Locate a Service Provider website.

Once you type-in your city or town, both housing and other resources for all types of problems, including homelessness, energy assistance, etc. are listed for where you live.

Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission provides a myriad of services for people who are disabled, including:

Independent Living Centers

What is an independent living center?

Independent Living Centers (ILCs) are private, nonprofit, consumer-controlled organizations providing services and advocacy by and for people with all types of disabilities. They create opportunities and help you achieve your greatest level of independent living within your family or community.

Centers for independent living help people with disabilities reach their goals through peer counseling, skills training, advocacy, and information and  referral. Centers may also provide a range of other services such as housing referrals, communication help, support groups, transportation, health information and much more. They also serve as a strong consumer voice on a wide range of national, state and local issues.

Community-based independent living is the best option for people with disabilities. The average yearly cost of institutionalization is $110,000, while the typical cost of independent community-based living is $35,000-50,000. Independent living centers are vital in helping people with disabilities make the transition from costly institution-based settings to less expensive community-based living.

For the independent living center nearest you, go to this site.

Resources for Housing Counselors

Metro Housing Boston  is the regional housing agency for the Boston area. Check out the “What We Do” section for the housing voucher programs. The agency also assists people with eviction and homelessness.

The agency has a program, the Housing Consumer Education Center at 1411 Tremont Street in Boston. You can meet with one of their counselors to discuss your housing needs. Go to the link to find out their walk-in hours.

Their phone number is: 617.425.6700 (hours: 9:45 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)

Talk to a Housing Counselor.

For Consumer Education Centers across the state, go to their site.

Check out this link on their site, which is currently dedicated to resources needed during the current corona virus pandemic.

The City of Boston Metro List Check out the “Housing Search Resource” topics, including “Housing and Rental Help”, “Identifying Affordable Housing,” etc. “Metrolist is a clearinghouse for income-restricted and affordable housing opportunities in boston and neighboring communities. we can help you search for housing, or list your rental unit for free in our database.” Also. 

For further information from both the U.S. Housing and Urban Development website and the Massachusetts Housing website, please see the following specific links:

U.S. Housing and Urban Development website:

Search for a subsidized apartment.

For a list of public housing authorities in Massachusetts.

For rental units in rural Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Government Affordable Housing.