Understanding why your public or subsidized housing application was denied

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Greater Boston Legal Services

A housing authority or landlord can deny your application for public or subsidized housing for different reasons. 

Reasons for why you can be denied depend on:

  • Whether you applied for a federal or state program; and
  • The specific type of public and subsidized housing you applied to.

For example, the rules for public housing are not the same as rules for subsidized housing. Also, federal and state programs have different eligibility requirements. 

Below, you can find more information about the reasons you can be denied from:


Denial from public housing

A housing authority may deny your application. There are also some situations in which a housing authority must deny your application.

Because state and federal rules differ, if you applied for both state and federal public housing, you may be denied from one but approved for the other.

You should read your denial letter carefully to see the reason for denial. If you have any questions about what your denial letter means, you should call the housing authority.

When can the Federal Public Housing Authority deny my application for public housing?

If you are applying for federal public housing, a housing authority must deny your application if it finds that you or any member of your household: 

  • Currently uses a controlled substance illegally. The Housing Authority must also deny your application they believe that there is a pattern that may threaten other residents’ health, safety, or right to peaceful. 
  • Has a pattern of abuse of alcohol that the housing authority believes may threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents.

    Before denying a person housing based on past illegal drug use or based on past or current alcohol abuse, a housing authority may consider proof of rehabilitation.

    Federal Public Housing Authorities consider marijuana/ weed an illegal drug.  

  • Has a lifetime sex offender registration requirement.
  • Has been convicted of manufacturing or using methamphetamine.
  • Has been evicted from federally assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity within the past three years.  


    A housing authority may accept your application if the person involved in criminal activity completed a supervised rehab program. They can also accept it if the circumstances leading to the eviction no longer exist. For example, if the household member has died or is in jail.

The Federal Public Housing Authority may also—but is not required to—deny your application if it finds that:

  • You or someone in your household has habits or practices that may negatively impact other residents or the project environment.

    Generally, this includes looking at whether you have a history of disturbing neighbors, destroying property, or other habits that may threaten the health, safety, or welfare of tenants.  

Look at your Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy (ACOP) for more information about what the Housing Authority will and will not consider. These policies vary a lot.

For example, your ACOP may say that criminal offenses that occurred more than three years ago may not be important. This is called a “reasonable lookback period.”

When can a state public housing agency deny my application for public housing?

Unlike federal law, Massachusetts’ law does not require a state public housing authority to deny your application for any one reason. This means that applicants who may be denied public housing at the federal level could still be approved for state housing.

In Massachusetts, an application for state public housing may be denied if the applicant or anyone in their household:

  • Has history of upsetting neighbors. If a housing authority finds that this behavior would threaten the rights of other tenants or the rights of housing authority employees, it may deny your application.
  • Caused damage or destruction of property at a prior residence in a way that, if repeated, would harm the public housing development or any of its units.
  • Has housekeeping or living habits that:
    • Threaten the health and safety of yourself, other tenants, or public housing employees.
    • Negatively affect the safe and sanitary condition of all or part of the housing.
  • Engaged in criminal activity or discriminatory activity which, if repeated, would negatively impact the rights of other tenants or housing authority employees.
  • Has history of nonpayment of rent.

    Important: If you paid at least 50% of your monthly income toward rent each month during a tenancy in private housing, but you could not pay the full rent, an eviction for nonpayment of rent is not a reason to deny your application for public housing.

    Also, if someone other than the person with the nonpayment history can be responsible for rent in the new housing, there will be no disqualification.

  • Failed to obey leases in a way that could harm the health, safety, security, or peaceful enjoyment of other tenants or of housing authority employees.
  • Failed to provide information needed to process your application.
  • Intentionally gave false information as part of current application or  application filed within the last three years.
  • Acted in an abusive or threatening way toward a housing authority employee during the current or any application process within the last three years.
  • Does not intend to occupy public housing as your primary residence.
  • Currently uses a controlled substance illegally.

Before rejecting your application, you may be able to share more information about the circumstances that show why you should be admitted into public housing.

Voucher denial

Whether your voucher application can be denied depends on the type of voucher program to which you apply.

Vouchers are a type of subsidized housing administered by a housing authority. However, unlike public housing, your landlord is not normally the housing authority. Because of this, the housing authority does not usually worry about how you will be as a tenant; that is the landlord’s business.  

When can I be denied a Project-Based Voucher (PBV)?

For the Project-Based Voucher program (PBV), a housing authority must first find you eligible for the program.

After you rise to the top of a PBV waiting list and are found eligible by a Housing Authority, the landlord or property manager must consider whether they think you will be a good tenant. They may deny you for reasons similar to those used for public housing.

If you are rejected by a particular PBV landlord, you may still be eligible for other PBV housing waiting lists with that housing authority since not all owners have the same requirements. Learn more about eligibility.

If a PBV landlord accepts your application and your reject hat PBV offer without good cause, the housing authority may remove you from all PBV lists.

When can I be denied an Alternative Housing Voucher (AHVP)

If you have a disability and apply for an Alternative Housing Voucher, you can be denied a voucher for the same reasons that you could be denied state public housing.

When can I be denied a Massachusetts Rental Voucher (MRVP)?

If you have applied for a voucher through the Massachusetts Housing Voucher Program (MRVP), you can be denied housing for the same reasons that you could be denied state public housing.

You can also be denied MRVP if you or a member of your household:

  • Owes back rent, damages, or vacancy loss payments to a housing authority and has not entered into a repayment agreement. (Vacancy loss payments are payments made by a housing authority to a landlord where a tenant vacated the unit without giving proper notice.) 
  • Did not follow the terms of a repayment agreement, including repeated late or partial payments without a housing authority’s prior approval.
  • Has been evicted for “good cause” from public housing or state-funded housing through a judgment for possession. 

    The good cause must be related to tenant behavior, and does not include situations where the owner brought the eviction case for business, economic, or personal reasons and the tenant was not at fault.

  • Failed to comply with the terms of an MRVP voucher. 

Additional details on the MRVP denial process may be contained within DHCD’s MRVP Administrative Plan on DHCD’s website.

Multifamily subsidized housing denials

When can I be denied federally-subsidized multifamily housing?

If you are applying for federally-subsidized multifamily housing, an owner must reject your application if you or members of your household:

  • Illegally uses drugs.
  • Has a history of drug use or abuse of alcohol that the owner believes may threaten the safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of other residents.
  • Has been evicted from federally-funded housing for drug-related criminal activity in the past three years or possibly longer. An owner could admit your household if the person involved in the activity successfully completes an approved supervised drug rehabilitation program or has passed away or is in prison.
  • Has a lifetime sex offender registration requirement.

An owner may—but is not required to—deny your application for:

  • Tenant history.
  • An owner can also visit your apartment to see your housekeeping habits. 
  • Drug-related criminal activity, violent criminal activity, or other criminal activity that may threaten the safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of residents, nearby community, or employees.

    The rules do not state how recently before your application these actions would have had to occur in order to disqualify you from federally subsidized housing.

    An owner may also accept your family but deny the individual household member who caused the problem.

Before denial, owners must consider:

  • Specific role in the bad behavior.
  • How serious the offense was.
  • Whether the person went through rehabilitation or has taken other steps. 
  • What effect a denial may have on the entire family.
When can I be denied state-subsidized multifamily housing?

If you are applying for subsidized multifamily housing which is funded through the state agency, MassHousing (formerly Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, MHFA), the owner or management company could reject your application if it appears that:

  • There is a reasonable risk, based on your housing history, that you or someone in your household may:
    • be unable or unwilling to pay the rent.
    • interfere with other residents’ health, safety, security, or right to peaceful enjoyment of their apartments.
    • intentionally damage or destroy property.
  • You misrepresented or falsified information on your application for housing.
  • You or a household member acted with abusive or threatening behavior towards a management agent’s employee during the application process or any prior application process within three (3) years.
  • You do not intend to occupy housing as your primary residence.
  • You currently illegally use controlled substances.

Owners and Agents of MassHousing financed properties may require additional admissions requirements. These additional criteria may be the same as other state-funded public or subsidized housing programs.

Before a MassHousing owner denies your application, the owner must:

  • Consider how recent the information about you is.
  • See if there are reasons why you should be given another chance to show that your behavior is different and better now than it was before. 
  • If you have a negative reference, consider whether the people are biased against you in some way—for example, a former landlord is still angry with you because you called the board of health. 
  • If you have a history of nonpayment of rent in private-market apartments, look at how much of your income you had to pay for rent and whether the MassHousing subsidy would help your financial situation so that you would be able to afford the rent.


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