The recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has increased economic insecurity for many Massachusetts residents. In response, the state has expanded its emergency housing assistance program, Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, (RAFT) and created a corresponding program with broader eligibility, Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA.) These programs provide eligible families and individuals, who are at risk of becoming homeless, with short-term financial assistance up to $10,000. During calendar year 2020, DHCD has changed the application and review process to make it easier to apply and decrease processing times.
RAFT is a program created by the language of budget line item 7004-9316. There is no corresponding general law. Tremendous discretion is vested in the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to set program guidelines. The language of the budget provides the basic eligibility criteria and benefit amount. DHCD guidelines set forth the application process and program administration. ERMA was announced on June 30, 2020. This program is funded by federal CDBG Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) dollars. This program offers mortgage and rental assistance to an higher income population than RAFT: those who earn between 50-80% AMI. There is a single application process for RAFT and ERMA, but applicants are steered into one program or another based on eligibility. Eleven Regional Administering Agencies (RAAs) around the state receive and process applications. Funds are paid directly to landlords, or other vendors.
To streamline applications DHCD has: shortened the length of the application; consolidated the required signatures on the application; reduced the number of identification documents required; eliminated income documentation, verification occurs via interagency agreement with DOR or DUA; a court summons or foreclosure notice is no longer required to document an arrears; and other administrative changes. These changes are expected to reduce the burden of applying and lead to a significant reduction in application processing times. Smaller landlords are able to apply for RAFT funds directly with the consent of their tenants.
The following are the current program requirements. There are some documents elements that are provided by the landlord and the RAAs as well but these are the basic requirements from the applicant:
- RAFT Eligibility: up to 50% AMI or up to 60% AMI for persons experiencing domestic violence; AND for persons less than 30% AMI are homeless and moving into subsidized or private housing or are at risk of becoming homeless; for persons 30-50% AMI are homeless and moving into subsidized or private housing or are at risk of becoming homeless due to a significant reduction of income or increased expenses;
- 50% of funds are prioritized for families otherwise likely to require shelter services
- 33% of funds are reserved for families with an income less than 30% of the AMI
- ERMA Eligibility: Between 50-80% AMI and have a housing emergency due to a financial hardship related to or exacerbated by the COVID19 crisis.
- Housing Crisis: Families must have an eligible housing crisis.
- Also required, proof of need, that is the amount of funds required.
- Income eligibility
- Income verification will occur via an interagency agreement with DUA/DOR.
- Sustainability requirement: Applicants must demonstrate an ability to meet housing costs going forward.
- Photo ID is only required for the head of household
- SSNs are only required for household members who have one, and no documentation of SSNs is necessary.
- The application process is available online, although a paper application will still be accepted. The length of the application was reduced from 15 pages to 4 pages. Only one signature is required from each adult in the household.
- Proof of Housing, which could be a letter, lease, or tenancy at will agreement. If a family is using RAFT to move into a unit with a subsidy, proof of the total contract rent and of the tenant’s rent share must be provided.
Regional income limits and information about the RAA that serves your city or town can be found here.