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Eligibility by Type of Housing

This section breaks down the eligibility information by type of housing.

For all programs, you do not need to be a resident of a particular community to be eligible for elderly/disabled public housing in that community.12 You can apply to as many communities as you want. However, many housing authorities have preferences, which may include a preference for local residents.13 See Who Has Priority.

Once you pass this initial eligibility steps described below, a housing authority then looks at criminal records, credit records, and tenant history for all family members.14 For more information about how to prepare for this, see Tenant Screening.

Am I eligible for public housing?

Public housing is housing for low-income people that is owned and operated by a housing authority.15 Some public housing is for families; other developments are specifically for seniors and people with disabilities.16

Housing for seniors and people with disabilities

To be eligible for federal or state (Chapter 667) public housing for seniors and people with disabilities, there are four categories of information that a housing authority looks at:

  1. Your age or disability
    For federal elderly/disabled public housing, the head of household or a spouse must be at least 62 years of age or have a disability. Some housing authorities will let you apply if you are or your spouse is at least 50 years of age, which is known as "near-elderly."17 Under certain circumstances, HUD allows housing authorities to create developments that are either all elderly or all disabled.18 This is called "designated housing."

    For state elderly/disabled public housing, at least one member of your household must be at least 60 years of age or have a disability.19 The person with a disability does not have to be the head of household or spouse (as is the case in federal public housing). There is a limit as to the percentage of non-elderly people with disabilities who are allowed to rent. Under state law, no more than 13.5% of state-funded elderly and disabled apartments in each development can be rented to non-elderly people with disabilities.20

    Some places have been at this 13.5% cap for many years. In those communities, it is very difficult for non-elderly people with disabilities to get apartments. If you are not sure if a particular housing authority has reached this cap, you can contact the housing authority or call the Bureau of Housing Management at the Department of Housing and Community Development at (617) 573-1150.See the Directory or the Local Housing Authority Listing on the Department of Housing and Community Development's website for contact information).

    If you have a disability, you must show that you have a disability. You can do this by showing either that you receive SSI or SSDI or that you have a long-term physical, mental, or emotional impairment that affects your ability to live on your own. If you do not qualify for SSI or SSDI, you will probably need, at the minimum, a doctor's letter to prove your disability. 21 In addition, if you are applying for an apartment that has special adaptations (such as being wheelchair accessible), you will need to show that you need that feature.

    All housing authorities must provide people with disabilities with information about how to request a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is the legal requirement that a landlord provide services or equipment or a change in the lease or rules to allow a person with a disability to apply for, move in, and remain in the apartment.22 For more information, see Reasonable Accommodations.

  2. Your family status and household size
    A family can consist of a single adult or two or more adults living together. Because most apartments in elderly/disabled public housing are one-bedrooms or studios, if you have a larger family, you will likely not be able to apply. There are only a few two-bedroom apartments in elderly/disabled public housing, so you should check with your local housing authority to see if there are any two-bedrooms in elderly/disabled housing in your area. An elderly or disabled household can include a live-in aide.23
  3. Your income level
    For state and federal elderly/disabled public housing, your household's yearly income must be below 80% of the area median income.24 See Am I financially eligible for public or subsidized housing? and What are income limits for housing programs in general? and the Massachusetts Area Median Incomes chart.
  4. Your immigration status
    For state elderly/disabled public housing programs, you can apply even if no one in your family has legal immigration status.25 For federal elderly/disabled public housing, at least one member of your family must be a U.S. citizen or have a certain type of legal immigration status.26 See Immigrants and Housing.

Housing for families

To be eligible for federal or state (Chapter 200) public housing for families, these are the four categories of information that a housing authority looks at first:

  1. Your family status and household size
    A family can consist of one or more adults, with or without children.27 In general, this category is easy to meet because it includes most kinds of family arrangements.

    A housing authority will eventuallly determine what size apartment your family would be eligible for if you were offered housing. If they do not have any apartments of the correct size, they cannot offer you housing. This is most often the case when families need large units, which not all housing authorities have. You should always check to make sure that a housing authority where you are applying has apartments of a size that will be appropriate for your family.

  2. Your disability status
    If you have a disability, you are also generally eligible for family public housing.28 Some family public housing programs also give preferences to people with disabilities, so if you have a disability, it is important to state that you have a disability on any application.29 You do not need to specify the type of disability on the application.
  3. Your income level
    For state and federal family public housing, your household's yearly income must be below 80% of the area median income.30 See Am I financially eligible for public or subsidized housing? and What are income limits for housing programs in general? and the Massachusetts Area Median Incomes chart.
  4. Your immigration status
    For state family public housing programs, you can apply even if no one in your family has legal immigration status.31 For federal family public housing, at least one member of your family must be a U.S. citizen or have a certain type of legal immigration status.32 See If I am an immigrant, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing? and Immigrants and Housing.

Am I eligible for a Section 8 voucher?

A Section 8 voucher is a rental subsidy that is used by a tenant to rent an apartment from a private landlord. It is also called a Housing Choice Voucher.33 To determine whether you are eligible for a Section 8 voucher, there are three categories of information that a housing authority or regional nonprofit housing agency looks at:

  1. Your family status
    A family can consist of one or more adults with or without children.34 In general, this category is easy to meet because it includes most kinds of family arrangements. For Section 8, there is a special rule that young full-time students without dependents cannot receive assistance.35
  2. Your income level
    In most cases, your income must be below 50% of the area median income. In some places the income limit may be higher, up to 80% of the area median income. See Am I financially eligible for public or subsidized housing? and What are income limits for housing programs in general? and the Massachusetts Area Median Incomes chart.
  3. Your immigration status
    For the Section 8 program, at least one member of your family must be a U.S. citizen or have a certain type of legal immigration status.36 If some members of your family are not U.S. citizens or do not have the proper immigration status, you can still apply for Section 8, but you will not get full assistance and your rent will be higher.37 See If I am an immigrant, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing? and  Immigrants and Housing.

Am I eligible for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program?

The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) provides rental subsidies for people with disabilities to rent an apartment from a private landlord.38 Only certain housing authorities have these vouchers available. To determine whether you are eligible for an AVHP voucher, these are the three categories of information that a housing authority looks at:

  1. Your family status
    You must be under age 60 and have a disability that makes you eligible to live in state public housing for elders and people with disabilities (Chapter 667 housing).
  2. Your income level
    For AHVP, your household yearly income must be below 80% of the area median income.39 See Am I financially eligible for public or subsidized housing? and What are income limits for housing programs in general? and the Massachusetts Area Median Incomes chart.
  3. Your immigration status
    You do not need to show any particular immigration status in order to be eligible for an AHVP voucher. See If I am an immigrant, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing? and  Immigrants and Housing.

You do not need to be a resident of a particular community to be eligible for an AHVP voucher. To figure out whether you qualify for a preference, see Who Has Priority.

Am I eligible for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program?

The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) is a state-funded program that provides rental subsidies to enable individuals and families to rent an apartment from a private landlord. Currently, due to state funding cuts, very few tenant-based MRVP vouchers are being issued to new applicants. It is still possible to get into an apartment with a project-based MRVP (see section below).

Tenant-based vouchers

In order to be eligible for an MRVP voucher, you would need to meet the following eligibility criteria that apply to both tenant-based and project-based MRVP vouchers: 40

  1. Your family status
    A family can consist of one or more adults with or without children.41 In general, this category is easy to meet because it includes most kinds of family arrangements.
  2. Your income level
    In order to be eligible for an MRVP voucher, your net yearly income (after some allowable deductions)42 must be less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.43 See Am I financially eligible for public or subsidized housing? and What are income limits for housing programs in general? and the Federal Poverty Guidelines chart.
  3. Your immigration status
    You do not need to show any particular immigration status to be eligible for an MRVP voucher. See If I am an immigrant, am I eligible for public or subsidized housing? and  Immigrants and Housing.

Project-based vouchers

While new applicants can rarely receive new MRVP tenant-based vouchers, they may be determined eligible for, and offered an apartment with, a project-based MRVP. Generally, when an apartment with a project-based MRVP becomes available, the housing authority will screen some of the applicants at the top of its state public housing waitlist for MRVP eligibility using the criteria above. The housing authority will then forward the names of several eligible applicants from its state public housing waitlist to the landlord, who will meet the tenants and make one tenant an offer of housing. In general, if the tenant household leaves an MRVP project-based apartment, they will lose their subsidy. The only exception to this is that, if the family is over- or underhoused, they may be transferred to an appropriately sized apartment of state public housing. For more about being overhoused or underhoused, see Housing Transfers.

Am I eligible for multifamily subsidized housing?

Both the federal and state governments fund multifamily housing where private owners take a form of government assistance in exchange for setting aside some or all apartments in a development for affordable housing. To determine whether you are eligible for multifamily housing, these are the three categories of information that the owner looks at:

  1. Your age
    For some multifamily housing developments, you must be elderly (for federal multifamily housing, this is defined as age 62 or older; for state multifamily housing, age 60 or older) or be disabled. For other multifamily housing developments, age and disability do not matter.
  2. Your family status and household size
    A family can consist of one or more adults, with or without children.44 An owner will eventually determine what size apartment your family would be eligible for if you were offered housing. If they do not have any apartments of the appropriate size, they cannot offer you housing.
  3. Your income level
    For most multifamily developments, your household yearly income must be less than 80% of the area median income.45 For some developments, some apartments must be rented to persons with incomes at or below 50% of area median income.46

    For some multifamily housing developments, such as tax credit developments, where there is a flat or basic rent (a shallow subsidy), your actual income must be sufficient so that you can pay the rent.47 If you are bringing a tenant-based voucher, such as a Section 8, with you to the development, this voucher should be used in determining whether you can afford the rent. See Am I eligible for housing under the HOME or Tax Credit programs?.

  4. Your immigration status
    For state-funded multifamily developments, you can apply even if no one in your family has legal immigration status.48 For most, but not all, federally funded multifamily developments, at least one member of your family must be a U.S. citizen or have a certain type of legal immigration status.49 See Immigrants and Housing.

Am I eligible for housing under the HOME or Tax Credit programs?

For two particular kinds of multifamily programs—the HOME and federal or state tax credit programs—there are slightly different eligibility rules for low-income units than for the other programs discussed above.

  1. Your family status
    A family can consist of one or more adults, with or without children. If HOME or tax credit funds are combined with other financing (for example, tax credit funds are being used in conjunction with public housing), then the requirements of those other programs apply.

    There is a unique IRS (Internal Revenue Service) rule for tax credit developments which may bar adult students from being eligible. There are a number of exceptions, however, which may fit your situation.50

  2. Your income level
    For the HOME tenant-based rental assistance program, applicants must have incomes which are either 50% or 80% of area median income or below.51 In some cases, there are subsidies targeted to families at or below 60% of area median income.52

    For the tax credit programs, some developments will look for applicants at or below 50% or 60% of area median income. You may have to ask to find out which rule applies.53

    These programs often only have a shallow subsidy, which means the rent is fixed and does not change with your income. As a result, an owner could decide that your income is too low to qualify for the flat rent. The owner must, however, consider any rental subsidy that would be available to you for the apartment in determining affordability (such as a Section 8 voucher that you could use there).

  3. Your immigration status
    There is no explicit rule that requires HOME or tax credit programs to consider immigration status for eligibility reasons.54 However, the other types of financing for the development (for example, federal public housing or Section 8 assistance) may impose restrictions on eligibility based on your immigration status. You need to ask the owner about all of the financing and rules that may apply to the development.

Endnotes

12 24 C.F.R. § 960.206(b)(1)(i).

13 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 960.206(b)(1 State: 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.03 and 5.09.

14 Federal: 24 C.F.R. §§ 960.203(c) and 960.204; State: G.L. c. 121B, § 32; 760 C.M.R. § 5.08.

15 Federal: 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437a et seq.; 24 C.F.R. Parts 5, 960, 964, 965 and 966; State: G.L. c. 121B, §§ 32 et seq., 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.00 and 6.00.

16 Federal: 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(3)(D) & (E 24 C.F.R. § 5.403; State: G.L. c. 121B, § 1, 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.03 and 5.07.

17 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(3)(B 24 C.F.R. § 5.403.

18 Housing and Community Development Act of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-550, § 622 (a), 106 Stat. 3813 (1992 42 U.S.C.A. § 1437 (e see also HUD Notice PIH 97-12, Requirements for Designation of Public Housing Projects (Mar. 12, 1997). This notice has been extended every year.

19 G.L. c. 121B, § 1; 760 C.M.R. § 5.03.

20 G.L. c. 121B, § 39; 760 C.M.R. § 5.10(1) and (2).

21 Federal: 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1437a(b)(3)(E 6107(l 24 C.F.R. § 5.403; State: G.L. c. 121B, § 1; 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.03 and 5.07.  See also DHCD Public Housing Notice 2009-11 (June 11, 2009), Reasonable Accommodation and Modifications in State-Aided Public Housing.

22 Federal: 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.; 29 U.S.C. §794; 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; 24 C.F.R. §§ 8.6, 8.33, 100.204, 982.204; State: G.L. c. 151B, § 4(7A)(2 760 C.M.R. § 4.03(1)(e 804 C.M.R. § 2.03.

23 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.403; State: 760 C.M.R. § 5.03.

24 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.603; State: 760 C.M.R. § 5.06.

25 Weeks v. Waltham Housing Authority, No. 76-402-F (D. Mass. Aug. 2, 1977). Case available from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

26 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a 24 C.F.R. § 5.506.

27 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.403; State: 760 C.M.R. § 5.03.

28 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.403; State: G.L. c. 121B, § 32.

29 Federal: 24 C.F.R. §§ 960.206(b)(3) and (5), 960.401-407; State: 760 C.M.R. § 5.07.

30 Federal: 24 C.F.R. § 5.603; State: 760 C.M.R. § 5.06.

31 Weeks v. Waltham Housing Authority, No. 76-402-F (D. Mass. Aug. 2, 1977). Case available from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

32 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a 24 C.F.R. § 5.506.

33 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(o 24 C.F.R. Part 5 "General HUD Program Requirements; Waivers" and Part 982 "Housing Choice Voucher Program."

34 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.403 and 982.201(c).

35 24 C.F.R. § 5.612. The rule states that assistance shall not be provided to any individual who is enrolled in an institution of higher education, and is not a veteran, not married, does not have a dependent child, and is not otherwise eligible.

36 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a 24 C.F.R. § 5.506.

37 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.506(b)(2), 5.516, 5.518, and 5.520.

38 760 C.M.R. § 53.00 et seq.

39 760 C.M.R. § 53.02.

40 760 C.M.R. § 49.03. Note that the list provided in the text does not include the conditions for being determined "otherwise eligible." The criteria for being determined otherwise eligible (which are the equivalent of grounds for determining qualification or suitability in other public and subsidized housing programs) can be found at 760 C.M.R. § 49.03(2). See Tenant Screening regarding overcoming denials based on these additional eligibility criteria.

41 For determination of net income, see 760 C.M.R. § 49.05(6).

42 760 C.M.R. § 49.03(1).

43 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.403 and 982.201(c).

44 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(a)(1), (b)(2 24 C.F.R. § 5.653(b) (project-based Section 8 assistance HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 3. MassHousing guidelines for state multifamily housing appear to be similar. G.L. c. 23A, App. 1, §§ 1-1(d) and 1-6 (tying eligibility to state public housing eligibility—i.e., 80% of area median income).

45 42 U.S.C. § 1437n(c) (for developments with project-based Section 8 assistance which were first available for occupancy prior to October 1, 1981, no more than 25% of the apartments can be rented to those with incomes above 50% of area median income; for developments which were first available after October 1, 1981, no more than 15% of the apartments can be rented to those above 50% of area median income 24 C.F.R. § 5.653(d).

46 Thus, under G.L. c. 23A, App. 1, § 1-6(a), the adjusted rent in a MassHousing development that does not receive some other form of deep subsidy (such as project-based Section 8 or MRVP assistance) is set at 30% of 80% of the area median income generally. If the tenant's income is such that he or she cannot afford this flat rent, this would be a legitimate basis for the owner to refuse to accept the tenant. However, any subsidy assistance available to the tenant must be factored into this calculation.

47 Weeks v. Waltham Housing Authority, No. 76-402-F (D. Mass. Aug. 2, 1977). Case is available from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

48 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a 24 C.F.R. § 5.506.

49 26 U.S.C. § 42(i)(3)(D). Students are eligible for the federal low-income tax credit program if they are (a) receiving assistance under Title IV of the Social Security Act (that is, are receiving SSI), (b) enrolled in a job training program and receiving assistance under the Job Training Partnership Act or a similar federal, state, or local law, (c) full-time students and single parents and their children who are not dependents of another individual, or (d) full-time students and are married and file a joint return.

50 24 C.F.R. § 92.209(c)(1).

51 24 C.F.R. § 92.216.

52 26 U.S.C. § 42; G.L. c. 23B, § 3; G.L. c. 62, § 6I; G.L. c. 63, § 31H; 760 C.M.R. § 54.00.

53 HUD non-citizen restrictions are limited to the programs described in 42 U.S.C. § 1436a(a).

54 Although it varies from state to state, in general, minors’ contracts are voidable except to the extent that the contract is for reasonable value of a necessity. See 33 Mass. Prac., Landlord and Tenant Law, § 6:2 (3d Ed.).

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated December 2009

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