Where to Begin

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated December 2009

How do I find public and subsidized housing?

There are three basic types of government-funded housing in Massachusetts that help make rents more affordable for low- and moderate-income people:

  • Public housing
  • Vouchers
  • Multifamily subsidized housing

There are also housing programs around the state for people with disabilities and special needs. For an overview of housing programs, see Housing Programs in Massachusetts.

Your chances of getting assisted housing are greater if you apply to as many places as possible. In addition, you should always apply to the local housing authority and subsidized housing in your community, since many housing authorities give priority to local residents on their waiting lists.

General information

To begin your search for housing, call the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development at 617-573-1100 and ask for a copy of a booklet called How to Obtain Housing Assistance in Massachusetts. This booklet contains information about programs and useful phone numbers.

In addition, HousingWorks has helpful information about locating public and subsidized housing throughout Massachusetts.

Public housing

For public housing programs, you need to identify the communities where you want to live and apply at the housing authority in each community. If there is a housing authority where you live, apply because local residents may have priority for housing. When you contact the housing authority, ask for information about all the programs they have, what programs are open, and, if this is important to your family, what size apartments they have. See the Directory for a list of housing authorities.


For a voucher, you will need to find out which housing authorities and regional nonprofit housing agencies have vouchers and are currently accepting applications. It does not matter where you get the voucher; you can use it anywhere in the state.1 See the Directory for a list of housing authorities and regional nonprofit agencies. This list will tell you what agencies have MRVP, AHVP, and Section 8 vouchers.

Multifamily housing

As with public housing, you will need to identify the communities where you want to live and apply at the subsidized developments in those communities. The MassHousing agency keeps a list of multifamily rental housing developments that it has financed. Many apartments within these developments are reserved for low- and moderate-income people. You can see a list of these properties by visiting MassHousing or ask for a list by calling 617-854-1000.

You can also get a list of federally subsidized multifamily housing developments by calling the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 617-994-8200 or visiting HUD's Subsidized Apartment Search.

Regional housing agencies

There are nine regional housing agencies in the state that run a variety of housing programs, including rental and homeownership opportunities.2 They also have Section 8 vouchers and state vouchers that you can use anywhere in the state, and provide assistance to help families avoid homelessness. Visit the Massachusetts Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCEC) website to find the regional housing agency in your area.

Housing for seniors

The 27 Aging Service Access Point (ASAP) offices in Massachusetts provide services and help to seniors, including information about local housing options. To get the phone number for your local ASAP, visit 800 Age Info, or call 1-800-AGE-INFO.

You can also get a listing of federal multifamily developments for seniors and people with disabilities (under the Section 202 Program) on the Multifamily section of the Homes and Communities website.

Housing for people with disabilities

A list of accessible and affordable apartments for people with disabilities is available on-line through a program called Mass Access Housing Registry.

This Registry includes information about public, subsidized, and non-subsidized housing options. You can search this information on-line to find housing opportunities that suit your needs. Each listing provides a contact person and phone number for you to call people directly if you are interested in applying to a particular apartment. Visit Mass Access Housing Registry to get the Mass Access list.

If you need additional information and assistance, you can also contact an Independent Living Center, which is a multi-service agency for people with disabilities. Housing is one of the many services they provide. Visit the website of the Office of Health and Human Services for a list of Independent Living Centers around the state.

Visit the Multifamily section of the Homes and Communities website to find  federal multifamily developments that are specifically available for people with disabilities.

If you have a mental disability, visit the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health website or call 617-626-8000 or TTY 617-727-9842 for general support. This office may be able to point you in the right direction for possible housing options.

If you qualify for services from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation, you will be assigned a service coordinator who will help you with many aspects of your life, including housing. To find out whether you are eligible, visit the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services website or call 617-727-5608 or TTY 617-624-7783.

If you are a person with AIDS, the best place to start a housing search is with the AIDS Housing Corporation in Boston. This office has collected information about how to access specific housing programs for people with AIDS.

See Housing Programs for more about specific housing programs for people with disabilities.

Housing for the Homeless

If you are homeless, in addition to the regular public and subsidized housing programs listed above, you may be eligible for some special housing programs called McKinney programs. See Housing Programs in Massachusetts. Many of these programs also require that you are a person with a disability, and most also provide services along with the housing. These programs are funded through federal grants that go to cities and towns, not to housing authorities. You should check with your local community development or neighborhood development agency. You may be able to find out whether these programs are available in a given community by contacting the housing search agencies at the Massachusetts Housing Consumer Education Centers.

In addition, in 2009, the Commonwealth began some new programming to provide homelessness prevention and other services through eight regional entities. They are called the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (ICHH) agencies. To find the entity in your area visit Housing Stabilization in the website of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Are there agencies that can help me find housing?

Yes. There are housing search agencies and community action programs around Massachusetts that can help you search for and apply to government-funded housing. The kinds of services these agencies provide may vary. If the agency has housing search workers, they can be very helpful. Some areas of the state do not have agencies with housing search workers.

Housing search workers can help you figure out what types of government-funded housing may be available, how to fill out applications, and how to get through the application process. They may also have access, through HousingWorks, to information about waiting lists that is not available to the general public. And they may be able to send your application electronically to many places at the same time, saving you an enormous about of time and money.

You can contact housing search agencies, Housing Assistance Programs (HAPs), Community Action Programs (CAPs), or the Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs) located at each regional housing agency described in How do I find public and subsidized housing? Lists of all of these organizations can be found in the following websites:

If you are a family with children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, you may be eligible to receive housing search assistance from the Department of Housing and Community Development.  Their assistance for homeless families is located at Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) regional offices. You do not have to be receiving welfare to get housing search assistance. Ask about your rights to housing search assistance at your local DTA office, including whether you are eligible for the new programs for the homeless described in How do I find public and subsidized housing?

Visit the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website for a list of local DTA offices.


1 42 U.S.C. § 1437f(r 24 C.F.R. § 982.355; Williams et al. v. Hanover Housing Authority et al., 871 F. Supp. 527 (D. Mass. 1994).

2 760 C.M.R. § 5.03 (defining LHA to include a regional nonprofit corporation).

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