Housing Stability

Headline:

Recently, MLPB has received reports from MA care teams who are helping families apply for emergency shelter  (EA) of increased hang-ups, unanswered calls, missed call backs from Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

Last-reviewed: 3pm, Jan. 19, 2023

Key Resources:

The Basics

Eviction

  • MLRI and JCSEM release a one-of-a-kind report, which surveys the reasons for tenant defaults in housing court eviction cases.
  • As of August 1, 2022, households applying for RAFT must have received a notice to quit or eviction notice/court summons. In addition, the RAFT benefit cap is now $10,000.
  • DHCD has issued a new guide to help tenants apply for housing assistance through the new Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program portal.  
  • Certain eviction protections for MA tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent were extended through March 31, 2023.
  • Housing Courts, District Courts, and Boston Municipal Courts (BMC) continue to conduct summary process hearings in tiers.
  • The Department of Research and Planning has launched an online tool to track all residential evictions in Massachusetts.
  • The Office of Housing Stability in Boston hosts virtual legal clinics for tenants and small landlords every Tuesday from 5:30 – 7:30pm. The clinics aim to provide community members with eviction defense information and assistance. Tenants and small landlords can complete a multilingual form and register for the clinic.
  • Although state law prohibits landlords from discriminating against people based on their source of income, including housing vouchers, such discrimination is still prevalent. Read local reporting on the issue here.
  • Tenants participating in court-connected mediation have the right to have an attorney, advocate, or other adviser present.

The Breakdown

Housing Court

  • The Default Project is a report released by MLRI and JCSEM which reveals through studies and research that tenants who default in eviction cases are facing numerous barriers, including issues with notice, information about court, language access complications, employment, health, disability and childcare complications. Read the report here.
  • Housing Courts, District Courts, and Boston Municipal Courts (BMC) will continue to conduct summary process hearings in tiers.
    • The 1st tier is designated for mediation. Tenants who do not appear at the first tier will receive a default. If there is no resolution at the 1st tier, notice of a 2nd tier date – a trial – will be sent to the tenant and landlord. Importantly, Rule 7 of the MA Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution provides that tenants participating in court-connected mediation have the right to have an attorney, advocate, or other adviser present.
  • Parties to Housing Court cases can sign up online for an eReminder (by text message) of upcoming court events. Learn more about this service here.

Tenants

  • Through March 31, 2023, MA courts must delay non-payment eviction cases while a tenant’s application for emergency rental assistance is pending.
  • DHCD made two critical changes regarding RAFT: (1) Households applying for assistance with rent arrears must have received a notice to quit or eviction notice/court summons; (2) the RAFT benefit cap is now $10,000, in effect from August 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. Find more information here.
  • DHCD has issued a Housing Assistance Application Reference Guide to help tenants apply for housing assistance through the new Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program portal. The guide offers a detailed walkthrough for a tenant (or tenant with help from an advocate) to apply for RAFT through the new Massachusetts Emergency Housing Payment Assistance Portal. Find more information here.
  • For more assistance, find the RAA that processes RAFT applications for a specific region by searching here.
  • People with court cases relating to housing who do not have a lawyer may contact the Housing Court Virtual Front Counter and Housing Specialist Front Counter, the Housing Court helpline or the Housing Court for their region to confirm scheduling and deadlines in their case.
  • City Life/Vida Urbana assists renters who are facing evictions. They can be reached at (617) 934-5006 (English) or (617) 397-3773 (Spanish). The National Housing Law Project (NHLP) has created an Eviction Prevention Tool for advocates working with public housing and voucher tenants.
  • A HUD rule requires that tenants living in a HUD-subsidized property receive a 30-day notice for non-payment of rent. The rule also requires that landlords provide tenants with information about available federal emergency rental assistance.
  • DHCD has partnered with community mediation centers to expand access to mediation resources in an effort to prevent eviction.
  • Housing discrimination – including eviction or refusal to rent – based on national origin or race, age, gender, disability or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. If discrimination is experienced for these or other reasons, one option is to file a complaint with the MCAD telephonically or electronically.
  • CFPB has issued a housing insecurity media toolkit. The toolkit includes information and resources for homeowners, renters, and landlords.
  • Statewide financial assistance is available through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for families who qualify for emergency housing payment assistance.
  • Some MA cities, like Boston, are offering rental relief assistance in addition to statewide financial aid. Eligibility requirements for Boston’s Rental Relief Fund have changed, so prospective applicants may want to review the eligibility guidelines online before applying.
  • The Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and the City of Boston have partnered to create a Public Housing Rental Relief Fund for residents who are living in public housing and are struggling with paying back rent due to COVID-19. BHA residents should contact their site manager to see if they qualify for assistance.

Landlords

Homeowners

The Bottom Line

  • Although there is some uniformity among courts, eviction proceedings may happen differently in Housing, District, and BMC courts. Contact the clerk’s office in the court where the eviction matter is pending for the most up-to-date information. Emergency shelter should be available for families who qualify.
  • Statewide resources are available for homeowners and tenants.

Foreclosure

The Basics

The Breakdown

  • The Massachusetts Homeowner Assistance Fund is a federally funded program to help homeowners who have been impacted by COVID-19 and need financial assistance to help them avoid foreclosure. Homeowners can check their eligibility for the HAF on this HAF website.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will suspend the foreclosure process if they are notified that the homeowner applied for assistance through the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF).
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to offer COVID-19 forbearance to qualified multifamily owners.
  • The VA allows homeowners to continue paying their regular monthly payments, deferring forborne payments to the end of the mortgage term. More information can be found here.

The Bottom Line

Homelessness & Shelter

  • It is important that care teams have tools to help families find shelter today. Local offices are closed for in-person appointments, the statewide hotline (1-866-584-0653) is the only option for applicants. When the statewide hotline is unreachable, move up the chain of command until an applicant gets a shelter placement or an official denial letter. Whenever possible use email or keep a phone log to ensure there is a record of your efforts.
  1. Call the DHCD Hotline 866-584-0653 to speak with a Homeless Coordinator
  2. Call the Homeless Coordinators at your local DHCD Field Office 
  3. Call the Supervisor at your local DHCD Field Office
  4. Call the Assistant Director of Field Operations for your Region.
    • Boston: email or call (857-260-5830) Katherine Lopez 
    • Southeast: email or call (857-505-4233) Daniel Dessin
    • Northeast: email or call (857-260-7953) Sean Wilson
    • Central/West: email or call (413-276-5562) Bonnie Caldwell
  5. Email or call (857-270-1150) Ezequiel Lopes, Deputy Director of Field Operations
  6. Email or call (617-721-3511) Dolores DiFillipo, Director of Field Operations

More information on finding emergency family shelter here.

  • Families may receive HomeBASE benefits to help stabilize housing-related needs.

Conditions of Disrepair

The Basics

  • DPH has made extensive amendments to the State Sanitary Code to promote healthy living conditions.
  • Government agencies are working to implement procedures for community members to access resources and address their housing needs.

The Breakdown

  • The revised MA housing code regulations, effective in April 2023, are intended to promote healthy living conditions, including specific requirements on pest management, mold, and a landlord’s obligation to provide alternative housing for tenants whose residence has been condemned.
  • The CELHP team at MLRI launched MADE: Up To Code, an online tool to assist renters in documenting bad conditions and holding landlords accountable when repairs are needed.
  • The local Board of Health is one resource renters can use when their landlord has not addressed an unsanitary or unsafe condition.
  • This website lists the 242 Massachusetts housing authorities with links to available websites.

The Bottom Line

  • Frontline workforces at large agencies or companies may need time to learn changed rules. Try to have something in writing on hand – like a link to a consumer protection announcement – that indicates a right or eligibility for benefits.