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Programs by Type of Need

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated December 2009

What programs fund housing for people who are homeless?

People who are homeless are eligible for public and subsidized housing. They may also qualify for priority due to their homelessness. See Who Has Priority.

In addition, the federal government provides special funding for housing specifically for homeless individuals and families. Some of these programs are shelters; some are transitional housing; and some are permanent housing. These programs are funded through the McKinney Housing Programs.99

McKinney programs are funded through a local "Continuum of Care"; there are 22 in Massachusetts. If you work with people who are homeless, you will want to be familiar with the programs in your Continuum.

See HUD's Homelessness Resource Exchange to find maps and contact information for each Continuum of Care in Massachusetts

For all of the McKinney housing, participants must meet the definition of homelessness.100 This includes people who are in shelter or transitional housing, or are otherwise without a fixed place to live. This does not include individuals who are currently incarcerated. There is also a requirement that homeless individuals be involved in setting policies for the entities that receive the McKinney grants.101

What follows is a description of the primary McKinney Housing Programs.

Shelter Plus Care

This program provides rental assistance for hard-to-serve homeless people with disabilities, primarily those who are seriously mentally ill, have chronic problems with alcohol, drugs, or both, or who have HIV/AIDS, and their families.102 Some communities have Shelter Plus Care resources only for homeless individuals; others may have some Shelter Plus Care resources for homeless families. There are approximately 49 Shelter Plus Care projects in Massachusetts as of 2008.103

Shelter Plus Care rental assistance is linked to supportive services funded through other programs. The program gives tenants the option of selecting their own apartment or residing at a property receiving the subsidy. The subsidy can be provided in any of three ways:

Tenant-based rental assistance
This subsidy is a 5-year grant that provides a person with a tenant-based voucher. The subsidy stays with the tenant. Participants may be required to live in a specific area for the entire period of their participation or in a specific structure for the first year and in a specific area for the remainder of the period of participation if it is necessary to coordinate supportive services. You are required to find your own apartment, unless you are required to live in a specific structure.

Project-based rental assistance
This subsidy is not mobile. It is a 5- to 10-year grant that is tied to property, and the landlord must have done some rehabilitation work on the property.

Sponsor-based rental assistance
This subsidy is a 5-year grant that is tied to the property owned or leased by a sponsor, which can be a private nonprofit organization or a community mental health agency.

You apply for the Shelter Plus Care program through the social service agency that runs it. Housing search workers in your area should know where you can apply.

You must sign an occupancy agreement for a term of at least one month. This agreement must be automatically renewable upon expiration, except on prior notice by either party. The state, locality, or housing agency that applied to HUD for the Shelter Plus Care subsidy may terminate a tenant from a Shelter Plus Care program for violations of program requirements or conditions of occupancy. The law does not specify what these requirements or conditions are, other than the requirement to take part in supportive services provided through the program.104 In deciding to terminate a tenant from the program, the state, locality, or housing agency must exercise judgment and examine all extenuating circumstances in determining when violations are serious enough to warrant termination, so that a participant's assistance is terminated only in the most severe cases.105 The state, locality, or housing agency is required to provide a formal process, consisting of a minimum of giving the tenant written notice containing a clear statement of grounds leading to the termination, a review of the decision which gives the tenant an opportunity to raise objections, and prompt notice of any final decision.106

See HUD's Shelter Plus Care Program for more information.

McKinney Supportive Housing Transitional Housing

This program is designed to help homeless individuals and families transition into permanent housing. Although the original intent was to have participants move to permanent housing within two years, a homeless individual or family may remain in transitional housing for a longer period if permanent housing has not been located or if the individual or family needs additional time to prepare for independent living. HUD may, however, discontinue assistance for the project if more than half of the homeless families or individuals remain in the project more than 24 months.107 You can find out more about the McKinney Supportive Housing programs through the Continuum of Care agency in your area. See link above. There are approximately 69 Transitional Supportive Housing programs in Massachusetts in 2008.108

In this program, rent is charged at 30% of adjusted income, and individuals or families must be offered supportive services. The law, however, does not require participation in services. The program includes on-site residential supervision.109 If assistance is to be terminated, the same due process protections apply as with the Shelter Plus Care program.110

McKinney Supportive Housing Permanent Housing for Homeless People with Disabilities

This is permanent housing that provides supportive services to tenants to enable them to live independently in their apartments and includes on-site residential supervision. Rent is set at 30% of adjusted income, and tenants have the same due process protections as if they were in the Shelter Plus Care program.111 There are about 112 Permanent Supportive Housing Programs in Massachusetts.112  

McKinney Section 8 SRO Moderate Rehabilitation Program

As discussed under the Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program, this is a special Section 8 mod rehab program focused on homeless individuals who need single room occupancy (SRO) units. It is administered by local housing authorities and regional nonprofit housing agencies. Applicants may be drawn from the housing authority's general Section 8 waiting list, but they will need to show that they meet the McKinney definition of homelessness. Supportive services are generally to be made available to tenants, but acceptance of these services is not an eligibility requirement.113

Visit HUD's Homelessness Resource Exchange for information about all federal homeless resources.

What housing is available for people with disabilities?

People with disabilities are eligible to apply for public, subsidized, and voucher housing programs and, in some instances, may qualify for priority due to a disability. See Who Has Priority. People with disabilities may also be entitled to certain reasonable accommodations. For more information, see Reasonable Accommodations.

A housing agency or subsidized landlord may be required to set aside a certain number of accessible apartments for people with mobility impairments (for example, households that require a wheelchair-accessible unit) and to transfer tenants who are in those apartments who do not require those accessibility features. Historically, 5% of the apartments in MassHousing multifamily developments (about 2,200) and 10% of the apartments in elderly developments (about 2,600) have been set aside for wheelchair accessibility or to accommodate other mobility limitations.114 You need to ask the housing authority or subsidized landlord if apartments are set aside.

In addition, there are many programs specifically designed to provide affordable housing to people with disabilities. What follows is a list of major programs for people with disabilities. These programs are described in other questions:

  • Federal elderly and disabled public housing
  • State elderly and disabled public housing (Chapter 667 Housing)
  • Alternative Housing Voucher Program
  • Section 202 subsidized multifamily housing
  • Section 8 Mainstream Vouchers
  • Section 8 Designated Housing Vouchers
  • Section 8 Housing Options Program
  • McKinney Shelter Plus Care
  • McKinney Supportive Housing (Permanent Housing for Homeless People with Disabilities)

What housing is available for people with AIDS?

Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)

The HOPWA program was developed for people with AIDS or related diseases.115 HOPWA funds come from the federal government and can be used for a variety of purposes, including short-term shelter, payments to cover rent that is owed, community residences, or longer-term rental assistance. Rent is generally set at 30% of adjusted income.116 All applicants must be referred to regional nonprofit housing agencies by social service agencies under contract with the Department of Public Health (DPH).

Tenants may be terminated from the program for violations of program requirements or conditions of occupancy.117 Like the Shelter Plus Care Program, HOPWA has established a termination procedure for tenants from the program.

What housing is available for people with mental health needs?

People receiving case management services from the Department of Mental Health (DMH) or the Department of Developmental Services (DDS, formerly known as the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) may be eligible for a special housing set-aside for people with mental disabilities. There are three primary programs.

MassHousing set-aside

Approximately 3% of the apartments in MassHousing multifamily housing are set aside for clients of DMH or DDS. Tenants are referred to these apartments by DMH or DDS. Contact MassHousing for a list of the developments and the contact persons at DMH and DDS. Ongoing case management and stabilization services are generally provided for people participating in this program.

DMH rental assistance program

As discussed in What types of vouchers are there?, there is a special DMH rental assistance program for people with mental disabilities which is operated by DHCD through local housing authorities or regional nonprofit housing agencies. This is usually project-based. Referrals are made by DMH housing staff.118

DMH and DDS community residential programs

DMH provides limited housing in residential community settings to people for whom it is providing case management services, ranging from emergency shelter to transitional and permanent housing. If a participant is required to leave one of these programs, she has the right to seek a review through the Human Rights Committee or the DMH Area Office. DMH also has the obligation to offer an alternative placement.119

DDS administers a large number of community residences; a number of these are group homes, which may be funded through other sources discussed above, such as the Chapter 689 state public housing program or the McKinney Permanent Supportive Housing program. As with DMH, a participant has the right to seek review of decisions affecting his/her individual service plan.  There are also particular standards for decisions on transfers. 120

There are approximately 2,307 community residences administered by DMH and approximately 8,307 community residences administered by DDS.

Some of the housing under these programs is just like an apartment, while other housing may involve shared facilities. The provider may be able to choose to evict the tenant through an eviction action or by using the state's Community Residence law, which requires a hearing.121

See Rooming Houses for more information about this law and eviction protections for people living in such housing.

Chapter 689 and Chapter 167 housing

Chapter 689 housing is public housing for adults with special needs. The current focus is on creating group homes for adults with mental disabilities leaving facilities run by DMH. Chapter 167 housing provides housing for people with chronic mental illnesses. The current program provides housing for people leaving state mental health hospitals. There are 1,882 units of Chapter 689 and Chapter 167 apartments in Massachusetts. Although housing authorities do not select tenants for these properties, they own the properties and contract with DMH or DDS to staff the housing.122

What housing is available for seniors?

Seniors are eligible to apply for any of the public, subsidized, and voucher housing programs. In addition, there are many programs specifically designed to provide affordable housing to seniors and people with disabilities. Some are funded by the federal government and some by the state. Here are the various types of housing available for seniors:

  • Federal elderly and disabled public housing
  • State elderly and disabled public housing (Chapter 667 housing)
  • Federal Section 202 multifamily subsidized housing designated for elders
  • MassHousing Elder Choice Program
  • Other federal multifamily housing designated in whole or in part for the elderly

MassHousing Elder Choice

This program offers subsidized financing and low-income housing tax credits to developers of assisted living residences who set aside 20% of the units for low-income frail seniors (with incomes under 50% of the area median income). There are 14 developments with over 300 affordable units in Massachusetts. For information, call MassHousing at 617-854-1000.

What housing is available for families?

Families are eligible for different types of public and subsidized housing. Because waiting lists are long, you should apply for as many of these programs as interest you to increase your chances of obtaining affordable housing. The following is a list of programs for families that are described in other questions:

  • State and Federal Public Family Housing
  • Federal Multifamily Subsidized Housing
  • MassHousing Multifamily Subsidized Housing
  • Moderate Rehabilitation (Mod Rehab) Programs (if appropriate size)
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program
  • Section 8 Homeownership Option
  • Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Housing
  • Section 8 Family Unification Program (FUP)
  • Section 8 Welfare-to-Work (Job-Link) Program
  • Section 8 Grandparent (Raising the Next Generation) Program
  • Federal HOME Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program
  • Shelter Plus Care (for homeless families, where so designated)

What housing is available for veterans?

The Department of Veterans' Services funds both permanent and transitional housing for veterans. Visit their website for a list of housing resources available.


99 42 U.S.C. §§ 11301-11489.

100 In addition, a number of communities have developed plans to reduce or eliminate homelessness for the chronically homeless, and have given preferences for such persons. Until 2009, the federal definition of "chronically homeless" was limited to individuals who had lived continuously in places not fit for human habitation, emergency shelters, or safe havens for at least one year, or who had been in such settings on four separate occasions in the past four years, and who had various types of listed disabilities. The statute is now amended to include families where the adult head (or the minor head, if there is no adult) meets these conditions. See 42 U.S.C. § 11360(2). Advocates should review local plans and priorities to be sure they are consistent with these changes.

101 42 U.S.C. § 11375(d) (Emergency Shelter Programs), § 11386(g) (Supportive Housing), § 11401(h) (Single room occupancy dwellings), § 11403d(c) (Shelter Plus Care), and
§ 11408(g) (Rural Homeless Housing).

102 42 U.S.C. §§ 11403-11407b; 24 C.F.R. Part 582.

103 HUD's 2008 Continuum of Care Assistance Programs Funding Awards.

104 42 U.S.C. §§ 11403e-4 and 11403f; 24 C.F.R. §§ 582.315 and 582.320(a). To know who must terminate the participant and provide for review, you have to review both the regulation and the statute. The regulation says that this action is by "the recipient." This term, in turn, is defined as "an applicant approved to receive a Shelter Plus Care grant." For definitions of "recipient" and "applicant," see 42 U.S.C. § 11403g and 24 C.F.R. § 582.5. The statute defines the term "applicant" to mean "a State, unit of local government, Indian tribe, or public housing agency." Therefore, a public agency, and not a social service provider, must make the decision and provide the hearing for the Shelter Plus Care program.

105 24 C.F.R. § 582.320(a).

106 24 C.F.R. § 582.320(b).

107 42 U.S.C. § 11384(b 24 C.F.R. § 583.300(j).

108 HUD's 2008 Continuum of Care Assistance Programs Funding Awards.

109 42 U.S.C. §§ 11385 and 11386; 24 C.F.R. §§ 583.300(d) and (e) and 583.315.

110 42 U.S.C. § 11386(j 24 C.F.R. § 583.300(i). For the McKinney Supportive Housing program, unlike the Shelter Plus Care Program, the government or nonprofit agency that received the funds can make the termination decision and provide the review; such decision need not be made by a public agency. See 42 U.S.C. § 11382(9) (definition of "recipient" includes any governmental or nonprofit entity receiving assistance 24 C.F.R. § 583.5 (definition of "recipient").

111 42 U.S.C. §§ 11381-11389; 24 C.F.R. Part 583. For the definition of "disability" for this program, see 42 U.S.C. § 11382(2 24 C.F.R. § 583.5 (definition of "disability").

112 HUD's 2008 Continuum of Care Assistance Programs Funding Awards.

113 42 U.S.C. § 11401; 24 C.F.R. Part 882, Subpart H.

114 G.L. c. 151B, § 4(7A 24 C.F.R. 8.22, 8.23, 8.32; HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3, REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 2; HUD Notice H 01-02, Compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Disability/Accessibility Provisions of the Fair Housing Act of 1988 (Feb. 6, 2001), as extended by HUD Notices H 03-10 (May 30, 2003) and H 04-09 (June 29, 2004 HUD Notice PIH 2003-31 (HA), Accessibility Notice: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, and the Fair Housing Act of 1988 (Nove. 26, 2003), as extended by Notice PIH 2006-13 (HA) (Mar. 8, 2006) and PIH Letter L-2007-5 (Sept. 21, 2007 HUD Notice PIH 2005-5 (HA), New Freedom Initiative, Executive Order 13217: "Community-Based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities," and the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Feb. 1, 2005), as extended by PIH Notice 2006-21 (June 16, 2006) and PIH Letter L-2007-1; Joint Statement of U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act (May 17, 2004); Joint Statement of U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and the Department of Justice, Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act (March 5, 2008).

115 The statute defines AIDS "and related diseases" to be AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) "or any condition arising from the etiologic agent" for AIDS. 42 U.S.C. § 12902(1). The regulation defines the term to include "infection with the human immuno deficiency virus," i.e., persons who are HIV positive. 24 C.F.R. § 574.3 (definition of "AIDS or related diseases").

116 42 U.S.C. §§ 12901-12912; 24 C.F.R. Part 574.

117 24 C.F.R. § 574.310(e Cotton v. Alexian Bros. Bonaventura House, 2003 WL 22110501, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16023 (N.D. Ill. 2003). Under the regulations, the termination and review process is provided by "grantees," i.e., the entity that was awarded and received the grant; these do not have to be public agencies. See 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.100 and 574.3 (definitions of "grantee"). On the other hand, the statute defines "grantees" as states or units of local government, as opposed to "recipients" or "applicants," which includes nonprofit organizations eligible to receive assistance. 42 U.S.C. § 12902(2), (4), and (7). There is no statutory provision regarding termination of HOPWA assistance as there is for the Shelter Plus Care and McKinney Supportive Housing programs.

118 760 C.M.R. § 38.00.

119 104 C.M.R. § 28.00.

120 115 C.M.R. §§ 6.30 et seq. For transfers, see 115 C.M.R. § 6.63.

121 G.L. c. 186, § 17A.

122 760 C.M.R. § 5.02(2) (DHCD tenant selection procedure does not apply to Chapter 689 housing). For DMH and DDS residential services generally, see G.L. c. 19, § 19 (DMH G.L. c. 19B, § 15 (DDS 104 C.M.R. § 28.13 (DMH licensing standards for residential programs and 115 C.M.R. Parts 1-11 (DDS regulations).

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