Glossary

Last updated September 11, 2009

Adjusted income: The amount of income that is used to determine rent for federal housing programs, if the rent is income-based.
The housing program figures adjusted income by first looking at the
total anticipated income for a household, and then subtracting certain deductions and expenses. What is left is adjusted income, and rent will be 30% of that amount.

Annual income: The term used in federal housing
programs to describe the total amount of anticipated income coming into
a household. Once a federal program determines the annual income, it
will subtract certain deductions and expenses and come up with an adjusted income amount.

Asset: Property (such as bank accounts, stocks,
and capital investments) to which a value can be assigned. Federal
rules have a specific definition of “net family assets.” See HUD rule
24 C.F.R. § 5.603.

Capital Gain: The difference between what you paid for an investment and what received when you sold it. If you sold an investment for more than what you paid for it, then you have a capital gain. If you sold it for less than what you paid, then you have a capital loss.

Checkmeter: A device owned and installed by the
housing authority that measures the electricity or gas consumed by a
dwelling unit. Checkmeters are installed in addition to the master
meter, which is owned by the utility and measures total building
consumption. The housing authority is responsible for paying the bill
to the utility. Tenants may have to pay the housing authority a
surcharge if the checkmeter for their unit shows utility use higher
than the utility allowance.

Deduction: An amount of
money that is subtracted from a household’s total anticipated income
before calculating rent. Deductions can be fixed amounts (for example,
$480 per dependent) or fluctuating depending on particular household
expenses (for example, unreimbursed medical expenses).

DHCD: Massachusetts Department of Housing and
Community Development, the state agency that oversees housing
authorities and state public housing.

Discretionary: Something that is not required, but that is optional.

Earned income exclusion: A type of exclusion for state public housing residents who had previously received public
benefits or were previously unemployed and then began working.

Eligible noncitizen: A
person who is not a U.S. citizen but is an immigrant who belongs to a
group which is allowed, under federal law, to apply to all federal
housing programs. Allowable groups include permanent residents, asylees
and refugees.

Exclusion: Family income which a housing
authority must ignore for purposes of calculating rent. For example,
the value of food stamps or a tax refund cannot be counted towards your
rent.

Flat rent: The standard maximum rent amount set
by a housing authority for an apartment, based on bedroom size,
condition, and location, that federal public housing programs must
offer to tenants as an alternative to income-based rents.

Good cause: A legally sufficient reason. For
example, a housing authority must have good cause to evict someone; or,
a tenant may have good cause to transfer to another apartment if a
household member has a compelling and documented physical impairment.

Grievance: A grievance is a complaint filed to ask for a hearing about an injury, injustice, or wrong.

Grievance hearing: A process following filing
of a complaint in which a hearing officer listens to
parties, considers evidence, and makes a decision or ruling. Before
going to the hearing stage, the grievance process begins with an
informal conference or informal hearing, which is a meeting that allows
parties to try and convince the housing authority that a decision or
proposed action is incorrect. Tenants have a right to have an advocate
or other person with them during both an informal conference and a
grievance hearing.

Gross income: The term used in state housing
programs to describe the total amount of anticipated income coming into
the household. Once a state program determines the gross income, it
will account for certain deductions and expenses and come up with the net income amount on which rent is based.

Hardship: A difficult or adverse situation for a tenant household (for example, loss of a family member).

Hardship exemption: If a family qualifies for a hardship exemption it will not have to pay a minimum rent, but can pay less than the minimum down to $0.

Hearing: See grievance hearing.

Household: People listed on your lease and authorized by the housing authority to live in your apartment.

HUD: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Imputed welfare income: Welfare income not received, but still counted by the housing authority where a tenant’s welfare grant was sanctioned and reduced for certain reasons.

Income-based rent: Rent figured as a percentage
of a household’s anticipated yearly income. In public housing programs,
the rent for each unit is almost always determined as a percentage of
the income of the family who lives there. Therefore, rents for similar
units in a development could be different, depending on who lives in
each unit.

Interim reporting: In public housing programs,
the rules concerning when a household must report a change in family or
income between the yearly recertifications.

Lump sum: One-time payment.

Minimum rent: In public housing, the amount of
rent a public housing authority is allowed to charge a household even
if there is no income. The range is between $0 and $50 a month,
depending on the housing authority and the program. A household can, in
many circumstances, avoid the minimum rent by applying for a hardship exemption.

Net income: The amount of income that is used to determine rent for state housing programs if the rent is income-based.
The housing program figures net income by first looking at the total
anticipated income for a household, and then subtracting certain deductions and expenses. What is left is net income, and rent will be a percentage of that amount.

Overhoused: Where a family is living in a unit designed for a larger family.

Pro-rated rent: The rent amount determined
according to specified calculations by a federal public housing program
for a household with some undocumented immigrants. The undocumented
immigrants can reside in the program’s housing, but the federal housing
program will adjust the subsidy to cover only the citizens or eligible noncitizens.
Generally, the calculation of the benefit amount is based on the
proportion of eligible individuals to ineligible individuals. As a
result, these “mixed” households will pay more than the standard 30% of
income for rent.

RAFT or Residential Assistance for Families in Transition:
A state-funded program to help low-income families avoid homelessness.
RAFT helps pay for security deposits, back rent, or utility arrearages.

Reasonable Accommodation: In the context of
housing, a reasonable accommodation is a change or modification that a
housing authority or landlord makes in a rule, policy, practice,
service, or physical space so that a person with a disability may make
full use of his or her home or take full advantage of the housing program. The change is considered reasonable if it
does not create an unnecessary burden for the housing authority and
when it does not require the housing authority to change its program.

Recertification: The general term used by all
housing authorities to describe the yearly procedure by which a housing
authority checks a household’s composition and income in order to
determine whether the household’s portion of the rent needs to be
recalculated.

Redetermination: The term used in state public housing to describe the recertification process.

Reexamination: The term used in federal public housing to describe the recertification process.

Retroactive: Referring to action applied to a
past time. For example, a housing authority is allowed in certain
circumstances to go back and charge you additional rent for months that
have already passed. Retroactive rents are usually imposed only if the
tenant tries to hide income or does not cooperate with the recertification process.

Sanctioned: Penalized. For example, if someone
receiving welfare fails to meet work requirements or violates other
parts of a state’s welfare policy, penalties are imposed.

Screening: The process of reviewing records and references to determine if someone will be a good tenant.

Self-sufficiency incentive: A type of exclusion for federal public housing residents who had received public benefits or were previously unemployed and began working.

Utility allowance: The amount of money that a
housing authority will deduct from rent where a public housing tenant
pays for all or some utilities (but not telephone or cable TV).The allowance is an amount that is not based on the tenant’s actual utility consumption, but a figure that the housing authority thinks is reasonable consumption level for an energy-conservative household.

Verification: Proof. In public housing, the
process where the housing authority checks the information given by the
tenant about income and family composition. This includes asking the
tenants to provide certain paperwork and seeking information from
outside sources (such as employers). The papers themselves are referred
to as verifications.

Waive: To not apply a rule because of a special circumstance.

Waiver: Permission, usually from an agency, not to follow certain rules.

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