There are different types of public housing programs in Massachusetts. Some are for families. Some are specifically for seniors and people with disabilities. Some are funded by the federal government, and some by the state government. A housing authority may offer different types of public housing. For this reason it is important to figure out what type of public housing you are applying for or live in and who funds it to figure out what your rights are.
Federal public housing
Federal public housing is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).19 There are two types of federally funded public housing:
Federally funded family public housing is open to families, single people, people of all ages, and people with disabilities who meet certain income guidelines. Apartments are usually in large developments. The number of bedrooms in an apartment is determined by the number and gender of people in your household. There are about 18,000 federal family public housing units in Massachusetts.
An important thing to remember about family public housing is that the number and gender of members in your household determine how big an apartment you will be eligible for. For example, if your household consists of a husband and wife and two sons, you will be eligible for a 2-bedroom apartment in public housing. If your household consists of a mother, one daughter and one son, you may be eligible for a 3-bedroom apartment (this may depend on the ages of the children). If your family needs a 4-bedroom apartment, check to be sure that the housing authority where you are applying has 4-bedroom units and be prepared for a long wait for one to become available. You may qualify for more than one apartment size and may choose a smaller-size unit because apartments of that size will be available more quickly. If you do this, however, there may be a long waiting period to transfer to a larger apartment.
Housing for seniors and people with disabilities
Federally funded public housing for seniors and people with disabilities is available to households where the head of household orspouse is at least 62 years of age or has a disability and is income eligible.20 Apartments are usually studio or one-bedroom apartments, although there are a few two-bedroom apartments. There are about 15,000 federal elderly/disabled public housing apartments in Massachusetts.
Federal law allows housing authorities to seek permission to designate elderly/disabled public housing as "elderly only," "disabled only," or mixed, or to place caps on the number of non-elderly disabled tenants living in a development. A number of Massachusetts housing authorities have sought and obtained such permission.21
State public housing
State public housing is funded by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).22 There are four types of state public housing:
Family housing (Chapter 200 housing)
This housing is open to people of all ages, including single people, people with disabilities, and families. It is usually located in large developments. Sometimes it is called "veterans housing" because the program was originally for veterans returning from World War II. The number of bedrooms in an apartment is determined by the number and gender of people in the household.23 There are about 13,000 Chapter 200 family public housing apartments in Massachusetts.
Family housing (Chapter 705 scattered site housing)
This housing is open to people of all ages, including single people, people with disabilities, and families. Units are usually in smaller buildings scattered throughout a city or town. Many of these blend in with private market apartments.24 There are about 3,100 Chapter 705 family state public housing apartments in Massachusetts.
Housing for seniors/people with disabilities (Chapter 667 housing)
State-funded public housing for seniors and people with disabilities is open to households where one member of the household is at least 60 years of age or has a disability and meets certain income guidelines.25 Apartments are usually studios and one-bedroom units, although there are a few two-bedroom apartments. There are approximately 32,250 Chapter 667 public housing apartments in this program throughout the state.
For state public housing, the person with a disability can be any member of the family and does not have to be the head of household or a spouse (as is the case in federal public housing). For this program, however, 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 a housing authority's state-funded elderly and disabled apartments can be rented to non-elderly people with disabilities.26 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 in this type of housing. If you are not sure if a particular housing authority has reached this cap, you can contact the housing authority or the Bureau of Housing Management at DHCD.
There are also 22 developments in which DHCD has established the Supportive Senior Housing Initiative, which has created about 2,880 assisted living-like apartments. There are also about 900 units of congregate housing that combine services and housing. See a list of housing authorities that have congregate housing on the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs website.
Special needs housing (Chapter 689 and Chapter 167 housing)
Chapter 689 housing is public housing for adults with special needs. Although the program was established to serve people with a wide variety of needs, the current focus is on creating group homes for adults with mental disabilities who are leaving facilities run by the Department of Mental Health (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 approximately 1,890 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 the DMH or Department of Developmental Services (DDS, formerly known as the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR)) to arrange tenant selection and to staff the housing.27
19 The federal government regulates federal public housing through federal laws, regulations, and guidebooks. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1437a et seq.; 24 C.F.R. Parts 5, 960, 964, 965 and 966. In addition, state public housing laws of general application also apply. G.L. c. 121B, § 32; Spence v. Reeder, 382 Mass. 398 (1981) (federal public housing tenants get grievance rights in evictions as authorized by state law, even if federal law does not require it). But see Boston Hous. Auth. v. Garcia, 449 Mass. 727, 871 (2007) (state innocent tenant defense pre-empted in federal public housing).
20 Seniors: 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(3)(D 24 C.F.R. §5.403. People with disabilities: 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1437a(b)(3)(E), and 6107(1 24 C.F.R. § 5.403.
21 42 U.S.C. § 1437e.
22 G.L. c. 121B; 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.00 and 6.00.
23 G.L. c. 121B, § 34, 760 C.M.R. § 5.00.
24 G.L. c. 121B, § 34, 760 C.M.R. § 5.00.
25 G.L. c. 121B, §§ 1, 39 and 40; 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.03 and 5.07.
26 G.L. c. 121B, § 39; 760 C.M.R. § 5.10(1)(a) and (2).
27 760 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 and 104 C.M.R. §§ 28.13 and 28.14 (DMH licensing standards for residential programs).