For many refugees, a lack of a social network and stable employment can lead to a difficult financial situation. For refugees who find themselves without a place to live, navigating the various housing programs and laws may be difficult and daunting, as many are afraid to seek out help in fear of becoming deported. Knowledge about the different types of housing assistance programs and who funds them is crucial in order to figure out what rules apply to your situation and what your rights are.
The following page will give you an overview of the different housing assistance programs available to refugees in Massachusetts, in addition to emergency housing and shelters. This section’s main topics will include:
Affordable Housing Programs
Who is eligible for public housing and vouchers? When applying for public housing, many immigrants wonder about their status and how it impacts their eligibility. Whereas Massachusetts state funded housing programs do not discriminate on the basis of immigration status, certain federal programs do. But because asylees and refugees are recognized as “qualified aliens”, they are eligible for both state and federal programs. Note that these programs have additional eligibility criteria, such as combined income. Note that there also are specific housing programs for refugees and asylees, discussed below. “Qualified Aliens” Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, the term “qualified alien” is used to encompass the different categories of noncitizens who are able to still receive federal public benefits, including housing benefits. Qualified aliens include:
Refugees (an alien who is admitted to the United States under §207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA))
Asylees (an alien who is granted asylum under INA §208);
An alien who is paroled into the United States (under INA §212(d)(5)) for a period of at least one year
An alien whose deportation is being withheld on the basis of prospective persecution (under INA §243(h) or §241(b)(3))
An alien granted conditional entry pursuant to INA §203(a)(7) as in effect prior to April 1, 1980
Cuban/Haitian entrants (as defined by P.L. 96-422)
The implications of this act mean that both refugees and asylees fall within the category of immigrants who may be eligible for public benefit, including housing assistance. Mixed Households “Many households that include U.S. citizens or qualified aliens also include ineligible aliens (e.g., undocumented individual). Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980, as amended, requires HUD and local public housing authorities to provide prorated assistance to families in which at least one member has eligible immigration status. A prorated housing benefit is calculated by reducing the benefit due to the family by the proportion of non qualified aliens in the household.”
State Programs The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program provides housing support to low-income households by providing rental assistance to families in both publicly and privately owned housing.
Federal Programs The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federal program that provides housing support to low-income households by providing rental assistance to families in privately owned housing.
Federal programs that do not take immigration status into account are called “unrestricted programs,” and federal programs that do consider immigration status are called “restricted programs.” To apply for a restricted program, one person in the family must either be a citizen (either born in the U.S. or naturalized) or be an eligible non-citizen. While refugees, asylees and legal permanent residents fall into the category of eligible non-citizens, asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants do not. There are a number of federal programs that do not discriminate based on immigration status. Some of these programs include:
Federal multifamily building— the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides rental subsidies, below-market interest financing, mortgage insurance, or other forms of assistance
Rural Housing Stability Assistance Program, Continuum of Care Program, Emergency Solutions Grant Program
Shelter Plus Care–– Provides “rental assistance for homeless people with disabilities, primarily those with serious mental illness, chronic problems with alcohol and/or drugs, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and related diseases”
Temporary Housing, Emergency Housing and Shelters
There are a number of emergency shelters across the Greater Boston Area that can help individuals who temporarily do not have a place to live or who are in need of emergency housing. Please note that different shelters have different requirements for who they will take in, such as shelters that only serve families, women, or men. Although most public benefit programs may be unavailable for asylum seekers, certain exceptions are made for emergency programs, which may cover emergency housing. Special exception is also given to those who have PRUCOL status or who are victims of trafficking.
Special Eligibility: PRUCOL and victims of trafficking Permanently Residing Under Color of Law (PRUCOL) Status is a public benefits eligibility category for undocumented immigrants and those who are documented but do not have permanent residence status. In order for one to be eligible for this status, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must know of the person’s presence in the U.S., and the USCIS must provide that individual with written assurance that the government is not planning on deporting that individual. Note: A person residing under PRUCOL status cannot directly apply for U.S. citizenship or sponsor family members to obtain U.S. Citizenship / PRUCOL status is not an immigration status granted by the Department of Homeland Security. Emergency Assistance Program The statewide Emergency Assistance Program provides emergency shelter and rehousing services for homeless families with children, but in order to be eligible, at least one person in the family must have legal status (either citizenship or status as a legally present non-citizen). Certain exemptions are, however, made for immigrants with special PRUCOL status, or for victims of severe forms of trafficking. Under law, victims of trafficking are, in certain cases, treated as refugees for eligibility purposes. You can find out if you have PRUCOL status by calling the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition at 617-350-5480 x208.
In Massachusetts, the Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) is responsible for refugee resettlement planning and implementation and Coordination of Statewide Refugee Services. Both ORI and other voluntary agencies assist refugees in resettlement and integration into the U.S.
For more information, you can contact following resettlement agencies in Massachusetts: Catholic Charities of Boston offers “Refugee Resettlement” which provides refugees with apartments as well other useful services and resources.
International Institute of New England provides a core of common services, including refugee resettlement, case management, health services navigation, employment, education and literacy, and citizenship programming. Refugee Resettlement Assistance Center works to relocate refugees and provide various services like furnishing, cultural orientation and benefit help. Read more about benefits available to resettled refugeeshere, and see a list of resettlement agencies and other organizations providing services to refugeeshere.
There are a number of non-profit housing organizations in the greater Boston area who may serve refugee populations. Reach out to the organizations below to see if you are eligible for assistance:
Dignity in Asylum’s (DIAS) mission is to provide safe transitional housing and support for asylum seekers, refugees, people who have been granted asylum and unaccompanied minors at risk of homelessness. DIAS offers free housing and community support to people seeking asylum. Apart from a room for each supported asylum seeker, DIAS also provides daily meals, transportation to lawyers’ and doctors’ appointments, English classes and other support.
Emergency Assistance (EA) Program- Run by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), this program provides emergency shelter and rehousing services for low-income families with children and to homeless pregnant women without a safe place to live, and help those in need find permanent housing. The EA program requires that at least one person in the family has citizenship or status as a legally present non citizen. This means that families where at least one individual has refugee or asylee status may be eligible for the EA program. For a list of additional requirements and steps to apply, clickhere. Click here to access a guide created by MassLegalHelp.
The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) is an agency that may provide referrals to shelters if you have children, or legal status (you have legal status if you are an asylee or refugee). You can call the DTA and they can tell you which shelter you can go to. You can contact the DTA at 617-989-2200.
The Local Housing Authority Transitional Housing Program (LHATHP) provides temporary housing and support services to the homeless in Massachusetts. These shelters cater to families with children; runaway teens and teen parents; women and children fleeing domestic violence; and single adult men and women without children. The program helps individuals and families become self-sufficient by providing job training, education courses, counseling, employment assistance, and day care.
HomeBASE offers financial assistance – up to $4,000 per 12-month period – that can be used to pay rent, utility bills, security deposits, and other expenses that enables a family to stay in current housing or move to new housing. Assistance is based on the individual needs of a family, which is assessed on a case-by-case basis. HomeBASE also provides childcare services, furniture, and moving expenses. To qualify for HomeBASE, families must be eligible for EA.
Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) provides short-term financial assistance to low-income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. RAFT helps families who are behind on rent, mortgage payments, or utility bills by paying first/last month rent as well as moving expenses. To be eligible for RAFT, families must be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Families cannot receive assistance from both RAFT and HomeBASE in a given 12-month period.
The Local Housing Authority Transitional Housing Program (LHATHP)provides temporary housing and support services to the homeless in Massachusetts. These shelters cater to families with children; runaway teens and teen parents; women and children fleeing domestic violence; and single adult men and women without children. The program helps individuals and families become self-sufficient by providing job training, education courses, counseling, employment assistance, and day care.
Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnershipmobilizes wide-ranging resources to provide innovative and personalized services that lead families and individuals to housing stability, economic security, and an improved quality of life.
ABCD Housing and Homelessness Preventionoffers a range of housing and homeless prevention services, including assistance in applying for public housing, housing vouchers, and subsidized housing, as well as services such as housing court advocacy, shelter services, and rental assistance.
Housing Familiesworks to end family homelessness by offering safe, temporary shelter, quality affordable housing as well as individualized supportive services such as helping families maintain permanent housing.
For assistance with finding emergency shelter for families, contact the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Development at 877-418-3308. For assistance with finding emergency shelter for individuals, visit Boston Public Health Commission, Emergency Shelter Commission: 617-635-4507 ; boston.gov/shelter.