In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth has made several policy tweaks to its housing assistance programs in order to get more funds out faster to help people in need. Earlier in the pandemic changes were made to streamline the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) application process. Recently, more changes were made to RAFT and other housing programs in the FY21 budget. These changes are detailed below. Additionally, a separate post details the investment in housing assistance programs since the start of the pandemic.
- Language changes were made to allow families to receive both RAFT and HomeBASE during the state of emergency.
- The new higher maximum $10,000 RAFT benefit has been extended through the end of the COVID emergency declaration. Further, a higher maximum benefit of $7,000 has been established for 6 months following the end of the emergency declaration. Under normal circumstances, the maximum RAFT benefit is $4,000.
- New, simpler income verification options will run through the end of the state of emergency and include: the same process as in FY2020 or fewer documents at the discretion of DHCD; or Third-party income verification.
- DHCD has been mandated by the legislature to use a short, simple application requiring minimal processing time until the end of the state of emergency.
- The RAFT line item language changes permits continued operation of the rental and mortgage assistance program for families at or below 50% AMI. Traditionally, RAFT is only for rental arrears. Benefits for any recipient shall not exceed the actual liability or four times the monthly rental or mortgage liability, whichever is less.
Outside Sections in the FY21 Budget:
The following are summaries of housing related police changes that were adopted as outside sections of the budget:
Section 79: COVID Emergency Notice to Quit
During the COVID State of Emergency, a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent shall include: 1) an attestation as to whether the tenant provided the CDC eviction moratorium declaration 2) an attestation as to whether the unit is covered by the CARES Act eviction moratorium, for certain properties receiving federal funds 3) documentation of any agreements between the landlord and tenant regarding non-payment of rent, and 4) information on rental assistance programs, rules for summary process, and any relevant state or federal legal restrictions on evictions. The form shall also include the following statement:
“THIS NOTICE TO QUIT IS NOT AN EVICTION. YOU DO NOT NEED TO IMMEDIATELY LEAVE YOUR UNIT. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A LEGAL PROCEEDING IN WHICH YOU CAN DEFEND AGAINST THE EVICTION. ONLY A COURT ORDER CAN FORCE YOU TO LEAVE YOUR UNIT.”
On or after December 18, 2020, a court shall not accept an eviction complaint without proof of delivery of the form. A landlord shall send an electronic copy of the notice to quit to EOHED, the personally identifying information in the notice shall not be a public record.
Outside Section 80: COVID-19 Eviction Delay for Short-Term Rental Assistance Applications
During an eviction proceeding, a court shall grant a continuance for a reasonable period, if: 1) the eviction is solely for the non-payment of rent 2) such non-payment was caused or exacerbated by COVID 19, and 3) the defendant has applied for short term rental assistance, such as RAFT. The court shall not enter a judgement until the application is approved or denied. For the remainder of the COVID emergency, the Trial Court shall report monthly to the legislature on evictions.
Outside Section 88: Eviction Diversion Initiative Report
For the remainder of the COVID emergency, the DHCD shall report monthly to the legislature on the Eviction Diversion Initiative.
Outside Section 103: Eviction Diversion Initiative Task Force
There shall be a task force on the COVID-19 eviction diversion initiative. The task force shall track the initiative’s outcomes and make recommendations on how to improve its effectiveness, efficiency and reach.