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Emergency Rental Assistance

Developing a short-term Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program in your community

During an unprecedented time of unemployment, many individuals and families in your community may find themselves out of work and unable to pay rent. Although certain rental assistance programs already exist such as Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) or Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP), these programs have limitations that might not meet all the need in your community. In response, several municipalities are setting up a temporary emergency rental assistance (ERA) programs to help fill the gap and help those newly laid off due to the crisis stay in their home.  

Municipalities must consider several factors when creating an emergency rental assistance program such as what will be the funding source(s), who needs the assistance, how will the guidelines of the program operate, and who will administer the program, among others. To help answer these questions and determine your ERA program needs, MHP has developed two resources: 

Questions to think about when developing the short-term ERA

What will be the funding source? Funding sources often come with restrictions, like Community Preservation Act (CPA) money. Make sure the funding source supports your community's need. 

Who will you partner with/ who will administer the program? MHP encourages you to partner with an existing housing service provider, such as a regional housing agency. These organizations have experience working with housing programs, such as RAFT, an existing rental assistance program. There is a significant amount of program administration and staff capacity to roll out and it would be difficult for a town to administer in house. 

What is the need? Consider services already being provided and try to identify the gap. See MHP's recommendations on determining need

How will the application and documents be submitted? For efficiencies during this emergency program, the forms should be submitted online with appropriate languages for your community. 

How to distribute funds? We recommend the rent payments go directly to landlords. 

How will program agreements be executed? Due to anti-aid laws, the Department of Revenue (DOR) requires contracts between landlords, program administrators, and tenants. See sample program participation agreement from Metro West Development Collaborative below.

Will the program be regional or within your community? Some communities, like Waltham, have the staff capacity to administer the program in house. However, MHP generally recommends you partner with a regional agency that can serve several communities.  

Administering your program: partner with local housing organizations 

Administering an ERA program during this time is a lot of paper work and staff time to process the applications. MHP encourages communities who want to set up a short-term ERA program to reach out to your local regional housing agency or a community development corporation that can help administer the program. Not only do these organizations have the experience and expertise to administer housing programs so that your community is not starting from scratch, but it will create a streamline process for residents. 

Metro West Collaborative Development, a community development corporation (CDC) in Greater Boston, developed and will administer an ERA program for area municipalities. Rather than manage each individual community’s program, they created one program so the process could be streamlined and simplified. Metro West Collaborative Development provided examples of the forms they are using for their emergency rental assistance: 

The Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts has provided a flyer on regional housing agencies response to working with communities during this crisis.  

State and Federal Resources

If your community is developing a local or regional emergency rental assistance program, make sure you know what is already going on at the state and federal level. For the latest updates, MHP recommends you visit CHAPA’s COVID-19 Affordable Housing Updates. There you can sort by ‘state updates’ or ‘national updates’. Other useful resources include:

State and Federal Emergency Rental Sources

  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) -- A federal program that can be used for a variety of community development purposes, including rental assistance for households at or below 80% Area Median Income (AMI). The funds are allocated to the state and entitlement communities.
  • Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) -- A homelessness prevention program distributed through Regional Housing Agencies which provides rental assistance resources of up to $4,000.00 a year to households at or below 50% AMI.
  • HOME funds -- HOME is a federal program allocated to the state, entitlement communities and consortia. HOME funds may be allocated for rental assistance restricted to households at or below 65% AMI.
  • Affordable Housing Trust Funds -- if your community has adopted a municipal affordable housing trust, you can allocate funds for rental assistance serving low to moderate income households.
  • Donations -- Some communities like Chelsea, Cambridge, and Manchester, have used donations for ERA.
  • Municipal funds -- Orleans approved an override to provide $275,000 a year to the trust.