The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) announced some impending policy changes for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. These changes will go live on January 1, 2022, and are being made to preserve the state’s resources as long as possible, direct funds to the most vulnerable households that have not yet been assisted by programs, and streamline processes at the Regional Administering Agencies (RAAs).
1. Require at least one month’s arrearage (unless moving due to health/safety crisis, overcrowding, doubled up, etc.) to get RAFT or ERAP stipends: Both RAFT and ERAP will require households to have at least one month of rental arrears before awards of rental stipends. Please know households can still access funds upstream of court. They will only need an arrears notice, not a summons or Notice to Quit.
2. Close the ERAP short “recertification” application for requesting additional stipends: ERAP limits rental stipend awards to 3 months at a time. The state had previously created a short application for current ERAP participants to request additional rental stipends, which it will now be sunsetting. Moving forward, households that need more assistance after the end of their ERAP award may re-apply through the Central Application.
3. Limit the combination of RAFT and ERAP: For the remainder of FY22, households will not be able to layer benefits from RAFT on top of ERAP. With limited RAFT resources remaining for FY22, once the household has exhausted the maximum ERAP benefit (up to 18 months of assistance for rent and up to $2,500 for utilities), they may not access RAFT until at least the start of FY23 (July 2022).
As we enter 2022, these changes give the state an opportunity to stretch its existing state and federal funding to provide relief to as many low-income renters and their landlords as it can. They are also aligned with other key changes: the new Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) program is live and accepting applications, and the ERMA program will phase out. Also, the RAFT maximum benefit will become $7,000 in a 12-month period starting on January 1, 2022.
Though the economy is making strides towards recovery and a “new normal,” we are still in the midst of a public health crisis. DHCD understands many families are facing ongoing employment challenges and housing instability due to the economic, community, and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with the RAAs, the state is making these thoughtful, modest program changes to make sure it has funding available to help households still in need.
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