Tenants can again seek 'rent relief' from Boston fund

Qualified households in Boston can get up to $4,000 per year in rental relief grants through a city of Boston fund that reopened for applicants a week ago Tuesday. First launched in the spring, the fund had distributed more than $3 million to eligible Bostonians over six months.

In making $5 million in federal stimulus funds available to those most vulnerable to losing their rental units to eviction, Mayor Walsh said, “As we continue to face the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we provide residents with the resources and supports they need to stay housed, especially with the statewide moratorium on evictions lifted.”

To qualify for assistance, tenants must earn less than 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) or $90,650 for a family of four; show that they’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19; have been renters in Boston as of March 1, 2020; certify they do not receive a rental subsidy or have funds to meet their needs; and must not be a full-time student.

The Rental Relief Funds may be used for short-term rental assistance for up to three months and to supplement partial payments of rent. 
Taylor Cain, director of the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab, said that the city has received about 600 applications over the course of the last week. 

“In this round, the re-opening is a bit different because in the first two rounds of the rental relief process it was a lottery,” Cain told the Reporter. “We had folks complete a pre-screening form, then they were entered into a lottery, given a ranking, and then sent over to one of our three partner agencies to complete an application where they were then answering additional questions and providing supplemental materials.”

After verifying eligibility, partner non-profit agencies will next calculate how much assistance is needed and send landlords payment directly.

“For this reopening, we’ve streamlined the process so the only point of entry is an application form that’s available online where folks are providing information about their household, the ways that they’ve been economically impacted by Covid, their monthly rent amount, how much rent they owe. They’re also providing us with contact information for their landlord and property managers,” said Cain.

Another new aspect of the fund: Property owners who receive funds must notify the city’s Office of Housing and Stability if there are any changes in tenancies and commit to working with a mediator. 

“I think that’s a really important dimension of this particular program,” said Cain. “Really ensuring that we’re asking landlords to make a commitment to housing stability.” 

Dorchester, East Boston, and Roxbury saw the most demand for relief funds in the earlier rounds, according to city officials.

The office has also created a separate template for renters who don’t have a lease or tenancy agreement in place. Volunteers are currently sifting through the bulk of applications and notifying tenants that were deemed ineligible based on their responses. 

“They automatically get an email explaining the reason for their ineligibility and then we provide an opportunity to appeal that decision,” said Cain. 

“For those who seem to pass that initial eligibility, we have folks going through and confirming that all of their materials are in place before sending over to vendors to get the final documentation from landlords and issue payments.” 

Dominique Williams, deputy director of the Office of Housing Stability, said that between a week ago Monday and last Friday the office “received 330 calls in general, and about 100 from people who specifically requested information about the rental relief fund.” 

Many are people who already received funds in an earlier round, she said, but who “still have not been brought back up to speed in terms of their finances or in terms of the money that they’re able to make.”

“We’re still hearing from people who are either part-time or whose hours have been drastically reduced who are looking to go back to work full time,” she said. “I think that is going to be something where... it will take quite a while for it to be no longer necessary. We don’t know how long this is going to last.” 

Williams said the office is fielding calls about the state-funded Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) as well.

“A lot of people are not able to access RAFT in a timely manner, and with the eviction moratorium lifting, people are definitely getting nervous or have already received notices to quit from their landlords,” she said. “They’ve applied for RAFT funding maybe within the past few months and just have not heard back.”

Although the state moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ended on Oct. 17, a federal ban through the CDC remains in effect until Dec. 31. Tenants are required to sign and submit a declaration to their landlord stating that they qualify for protection under the federal moratorium. 

“I hope that going forward, media outlets will start to call attention to the CDC moratorium declaration,” said Williams. “Folks should sign it if they are in any need of financial assistance or they’re feeling like their landlord may come after them with an eviction notice.”

The declaration is translated into 11 languages and available on the city’s Office of Housing Stability website so eligible tenants can sign it and send it to their landlord.  A person’s immigration status is not asked about during the Rental Relief application process and receiving funds does not impact other financial assistance that a person may be already receiving.

Qualified residents interested in applying to this round of funding can submit their application online.