How To Get Rent Help In Worcester During The Pandemic

·3 min read

WORCESTER, MA — The Worcester City Council may vote on a new proposed eviction moratorium at Tuesday's meeting, an effort aimed at keeping renters in their homes as the coronavirus continues to batter the city.

But for renters who are facing eviction right now, there's money available to help.

There are three primary rental assistance programs nearby: the federal government's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the state's Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and a program overseen by the city of Worcester.

There is a significant need for the programs. According to Worcester Housing Development and Healthy Homes Director James Brooks, there were about 898 "notices to quit" — the first step in the eviction process — due to nonpayment in 2021 in the city. The average dollar amount owed last year was about $2,585.80 per rental unit.

Brooks said notices to quit have increased since the U.S. Supreme Court in August struck down an eviction moratorium enacted at the beginning of the pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 46 notices to quit in December alone, he said.

Worcester received about $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in December 2020 for its own local rental assistance program, which offers up to $3,000 per applicant. The program still has about $1.2 million left, which will expire in the fall if Worcester doesn't use it all.

Worcester has divided up the $1.7 million to be distributed by five local social services agencies: the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance (CMHA), Friendly House, Open Sky Community Services, the Worcester Community Action Council and Worcester Community Housing Resources. Those agencies accept rental assistance applications. They also have staff who go to court to tell people facing evictions about rental help. Landlords can also apply for assistance for tenants.

There are some potential snags with the rental assistance programs.

Each program has an income limit. If someone earns too much money, they might not be eligible for help. Worcester's program, for example, has a maximum income of about $55,000 for a single person. Although, Brooks said someone who recently lost a job earning more than the strict limits might still qualify for help.

The state RAFT program also on Jan. 1 changed rules on how to apply for the program. The state now requires renters to go into arrears by at least one month before they can apply for help. The maximum help under the program also dropped from $10,000 to $7,000.

The rental assistance programs have also had significant backlogs, which could delay assistance. The Worcester Housing Authority has stepped in to help relieve some of the delays.

"Due to unprecedented need during COVID-19, application processing can take several weeks and funds are not guaranteed," CMHA warns on its website

It's also possible landlords could refuse to accept rental assistance. Worcester's program does require landlords to sign an agreement saying they will take the money.

"With a written agreement in place, the eviction couldn't move forward," Brooks said. "We need that landlord to cooperate and agree to that."

Here's where to get rental assistance in Worcester:

RAFT — Up to $7,000

Worcester residents can apply for help through either the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance or RCAP Solutions.

City of Worcester — Up to $3,000

Contact any of these agencies to start a rental assistance application:

This article originally appeared on the Worcester Patch

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