Housing advocates warned Tuesday that a Baker administration policy limiting rental aid eligibility has put help out of reach for tenants who are struggling to make ends meet, urging lawmakers to intervene and unwind the measure in the coming weeks.
On Aug. 1, the administration implemented a new policy limiting access to Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) emergency aid to tenants who have received an eviction notice or court summons or whose landlords have filed a notice to quit.
Those notices represent "the first legal step a landlord must take to evict" and terminate a tenancy, making them more impactful than just a letter seeking unpaid and overdue rent, advocates wrote in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.
The groups said the new eligibility requirement "is preventing qualified households from accessing needed benefits, leading to preventable evictions, and forcing households further behind in rent, putting them at greater risk of homelessness."
"As advocates, shelter providers, public health practitioners, and people with lived experience of housing instability, we know that accessing RAFT can make the difference between having safe housing and entering homelessness," advocates wrote. "Given the increasingly desperate state of affairs for renters, with increasing prices and the sudden drop in available assistance, this policy is causing many families and individuals to fall further behind on rent and is undermining the homelessness prevention goals of RAFT."
Mass. Coalition for the Homeless Associate Director Kelly Turley, Mass. Law Reform Institute Director of Community Driven Advocacy Andrea Park, and Citizens' Housing and Planning Association Director of Public Policy Eric Shupin asked legislative leaders to "expressly prohibit DHCD from requiring a notice to quit in order to access RAFT" and to make more dollars available "upstream," before the eviction process begins.
RAFT makes up to $10,000 available in a 12-month span to eligible households struggling to cover utilities, moving expenses and overdue rent, and it serves as the primary emergency rental assistance program, according to advocates.
Dozens of community groups signed onto the letter asking lawmakers to act.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted major changes to emergency aid programs, the Department of Housing and Community Development required a tenant to receive a court summons — which happens after a notice to quit — to qualify for RAFT, according to an administration spokesperson.
The administration has about $230 million available in RAFT funding for this year, which it expects will serve about 40,000 households, the spokesperson said. Tenants can access the aid without a notice to quit to move out of unsafe situations.