Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for public and subsidized housing?
No, you do not have to be a United States citizen to apply for public or subsidized housing. Lawful permanent residents and many other immigrants may apply for all types of government housing.
If your entire family is undocumented, you will not be eligible for certain federal programs. In addition, for certain federal housing programs, if some but not all of your household members are citizens or have certain types of recognized immigration status, your portion of the rent will be higher than it otherwise would be. This may result in a rent that you cannot afford and make it unwise for you to apply for those programs. See What is pro-rated assistance or pro-rated rent? and If some, but not all, household members are eligible due to immigration status, should I still apply?
Some housing programs do not require information about immigration status or citizenship at all. Other programs are allowed to ask you about your citizenship or immigration status.
In Massachusetts, all state housing programs and some federal programs do not have any citizenship or immigration status requirements.1 If you are an immigrant—no matter what your immigration status is—you may apply to the following housing programs:
State housing programs
- State public housing for families
- State public housing for elders and people with disabilities
- Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)
- Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP)
- State-funded multifamily housing2
Federal housing programs
- Some federal multifamily buildings3
- Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)
- McKinney Homeless Programs (except for the McKinney Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program)
- Shelter Plus Care
- Supportive Housing
- HOME Rental Assistance
- Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties (unless there are other housing program rules for the property to which immigration restrictions may apply)
These are not restricted housing programs. This means that whether you have legal immigration status or not, you can apply to these programs. You do not have to provide any documents or information about your immigration status.
Many federal housing programs accept applications only from immigrants who have a particular immigration status.4 These are the restricted programs. Depending on your immigration status, you may or may not be able to apply for the following federal housing programs:
- Federal public housing for families, elders and people with disabilities
- Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers
- Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program
- Most federal multifamily buildings
- Federal First Time Homebuyer programs.
Your family may apply to any federal housing program listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants? as long as one member of your household is a citizen or eligible noncitizen, as follows:
- A citizen born in the United States
- A naturalized citizen
- A lawful permanent resident
- A registry immigrant (admitted for permanent residence by the U.S. Attorney General and eligible for citizenship)
- A refugee or an asylee
- A conditional entrant
- A parolee
- A withholding grantee
- A person granted 1986 amnesty status
- A resident of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, or Guam
- A victim of trafficking or relatives of such a victim5
If one member of your household fits into any of the categories above, your whole family can apply to all of the federal restricted programs. This person does not have to be the head of household.6
If, however, no one in your household fits into any of these categories, you cannot apply for the federal housing programs listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants?. Your family may still apply to the housing programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants?
Many housing authorities offer both state and federal housing programs. You can still apply for state-funded housing at these housing authorities even if you are not eligible for federally funded housing because of your immigration status. You should make sure that you are on the waiting list only for the housing authority's state-funded housing.
What if I will eventually have a "green card," but I do not have one now?
You are not eligible for the federal housing programs discussed What housing programs limit applications from immigrants?. Once you are granted lawful permanent resident status, or a "green card," you can apply for all of the housing programs. Until then, you can apply for the federal housing programs only if another household member is a citizen or falls into any of the eligible noncitizen categories discussed in Who may apply to housing programs that limit applications?
What if I have work authorization? Is this enough?
No. A number of people may qualify for work authorization due to their immigration status and still not be considered eligible noncitizens for the federal housing programs discussed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants? You must fit into one of the categories discussed in Who may apply to housing programs that limit applications?
What if I am a victim of domestic violence?
If you or your children are victims of domestic violence and are not U.S. citizens, you may qualify under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for certain special immigration protections. These protections do not mean that you are automatically eligible for federal housing programs. You must still show that you fit into one of the eligible noncitizen categories discussed in Who may apply to housing programs that limit applications?7
Can I apply for housing if some people in my family do not have a lawful immigration status?
Yes. You can apply to any housing programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants? and What housing programs limit applications from immigrants? if at least one member of your household is a citizen or eligible noncitizen. See Who may apply to housing programs that limit applications?. Households that include people with both lawful and unlawful immigration status are called mixed households. For example, if you do not have a legal immigration status but your child was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, you have a mixed household.8
If you have a mixed household, you will be eligible only for pro-rated assistance in the restricted programs listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants?. This may mean the rent will be too high for you to afford. See What is pro-rated assistance or pro-rated rent? and If some, but not all, household members are eligible due to immigration status, should I still apply?
Pro-rated assistance (or pro-rated rent) means that the housing authority will base your housing assistance or subsidy on the number of eligible family members, not on the total number of people, in the household. You can live in a unit available through one of the programs listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants?—however, your rent will be calculated as if your household included only citizens and eligible noncitizens. Therefore, your rent will be higher in the programs listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants? than in the housing programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants?
For example, if you have four people in your household and only two of them are citizens or eligible noncitizens, the housing authority will give you a Section 8 subsidy as if you had a two-person household. The subsidy will be pro-rated by 50%.9 If in this example, the total rent is $1,200, and the Section 8 voucher is worth no more than $900, this is how it would work:
|Calculation of voucher before pro-ration|
|Total rent to landlord||$1,200|
|Section 8 voucher worth||$900|
|Your rent payment without pro-ration||$300|
|Pro-ration of voucher|
|Section 8 voucher worth||$900|
|Housing authority pays 50%||$450|
|New pro-rated Section 8 voucher||$450|
|Re-Calculation of your rent with pro-ration|
|Pro-rated Section 8 voucher worth||$450|
|Your rent payment with pro-ration||$750|
Calculations for the federal public housing programs are figured a little differently, but the general rule is the same: pro-rated rent is higher and the amount depends on what proportion of your household is eligible.10
If some, but not all, household members are eligible due to immigration status, should I still apply?
Often pro-rated assistance means that the rents in restricted programs are too high to afford. Even if you are eligible to apply for a federal housing program, it is usually a better idea to pursue the unrestricted housing programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants? You will need to figure out what makes sense for you, based on your personal situation and how much your pro-rated rent will be. Ask the housing authority or subsidized landlord to explain how much rent you will be responsible to pay due to the pro-ration. If you are applying at a housing authority that runs both state-funded and federally funded housing programs, and your pro-rated rent would not be affordable, you should not withdraw your application. You should ask if you can simply withdraw your application from the programs listed in What housing programs limit applications from immigrants? but keep your application active for the programs listed in What housing programs take applications from immigrants?.
If your rent is pro-rated and, at a later date, someone else in your household becomes eligible (for example, you finally get lawful permanent resident status), you should let the housing authority or subsidized landlord know this right away. It may result in a reduction or elimination of the pro-rated rent.
1 Weeks v. Waltham Housing Authority, U.S. District Court, No. 76-402-F (Aug. 2, 1977). See also G.L. c. 6A, § 16C.
2 This includes 13A developments through MassHousing, the SHARP program (State Housing Assistance for Rental Production), and other multifamily state-funded subsidized housing. See Housing Programs in Massachusetts for a list of state-funded multifamily housing programs.
3 This includes federally funded multifamily housing developments subsidized under the 202 PAC, 202 PRAC, 202 (without Rent Supplement or Section 8), 811 PRAC, and 221(d)(3) programs. HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3, § 1. See Housing Programs in Massachusetts for more about these programs.
4 42 U.S.C. § 1436a; 24 C.F.R. § 5.504; see generally HUD Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook (June 2003), Chapter 2, § 2.2; HUD Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook (Section 8), 7420.10G (2001), Chapter 5, § 5.2; HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3.
5 Relatives include spouses, children, parents, and minor siblings of child victims. 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a) 1-7; 24 C.F.R. § 5.506(a); see also 67 Federal Register 65272-01 (October 23, 2002). Section 107 of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, 114 Stat. 1464, Pub. L. No. 106-386 (Oct. 28, 2000), codified at 22 U.S.C. § 7105. See also Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-193 (Dec. 19, 2003).
6 HUD Guidebook on Restrictions on Assistance to Noncitizens, 7465.7G (Nov. 1995), is confusing on this point. The model certification form in Appendix E says the head of household must be a citizen or eligible immigrant, although the Guidebook Q & A states this is wrong and should be deleted. See also HUD Memorandum to housing authorities dated Mar. 11, 2004, from William O. Russell (hereinafter "Russell memo," on file with Mass. Law Reform Institute (MLRI).
7 The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 created protections for victims of domestic violence who are applying to subsidized housing or who are being threatened with eviction. See generally Violence Against Women Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-162, 119 Stat. 2960 (2005), Title VI. For more information about these changes, visit National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. For more information about immigrant benefits for a battered spouse, see 8 U.S.C. § 1154 (a)(1)(A) & (B), and USCIS webpage Battered Spouse, Children & Parents.
8 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.506(b)(2), 5.516, 5.518, 5.520; Russell memo.
9 24 C.F.R. § 5.518, 5.520.
10 In federal public housing, there is no such thing as a subsidy. Instead, housing authorities are required to establish a "maximum rent" based on the value of the 95th percentile of the Total Tenant Payment for each federal public housing tenant. The methodology for this is complicated and changes each year. See HUD Guidebook on Restrictions on Assistance to Noncitizens, 7465.7G (Nov. 1995), §§ 11-5, 11-6, and Appendix H. Since federal public housing tenants have the right to choose between an income-based rent and a flat rent as a matter of law, this is even more complicated because pro-rated rent is calculated in one way using the housing authority's flat rent formula and in a different way using an income-based rent. See Appendix III (mixed household flat rent worksheet) to HUD's Family Report Form HUD-50058 Instruction Booklet (June 2004).
Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Last updated March 2015