By Eric Weld, MassLandlords, Inc.
ERMA, the state’s new Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance program, was created to help those whose housing in Massachusetts is endangered due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts. More than a month after the program’s launch, most of the ERMA funds are still available, according to the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, which administers program funds.
Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito announced ERMA on June 30, with $20 million in funding. The housing relief program is funded through federal government sources, including $10 million from the CARES Act, signed into law in March.
ERMA funds are meant to be used specifically to cover rent and mortgage payments in arrears, dating back to April 1, and mortgage and rent payments going forward from the date of application. Qualified ERMA applicants may receive up to $4,000 within a 12-month period to help stabilize their housing, and may apply again for more funding after 12 months if necessary.
“Most of the funds are still available,” Stefanie Coxe, executive director of the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, recently told MassLandlords. “Anyone interested in ERMA should visit the website of their local RAA (Regional Administering Agency).”
ERMA is modeled after, and works similarly to, the state’s 15-year-old RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), a rental subsidy program that helps transition families who are at risk of becoming homeless into stable housing.
In contrast to RAFT, however, ERMA funds are restricted for rent or mortgage payments and may not be used for other emergency housing-related expenses.
Eligibility requirements for ERMA are broader than those for RAFT, and potentially twice as many Massachusetts households could qualify for the new program. In order to qualify for ERMA, an applicant’s current income must be within a range of 50-80% of Area Median Income (AMI). In contrast, RAFT funds go to households with income up to 50% or below of AMI.
Coxe emphasized that homeowners and renters should consider their most current income, as it has been impacted by COVID-19, when determining whether they qualify for ERMA. “Remember, it’s their income at this moment in time, after having lost income” that decides eligibility, she said.
How to Apply for ERMA
The ERMA and RAFT programs use the same application. Applications are processed through local and regional Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCECs). For more information, or to apply, visit the website of your local HCEC (listed at the top of the page). Some regional agencies require you to complete an HCEC assessment first.
If you reside in metro Boston, you would apply through Metro Housing Boston. Worcester residents apply through RCAP Solutions. In Springfield, visit Way Finders and fill out an assessment form. Program administrators will determine if your application qualifies for ERMA or RAFT.
Visitors to these websites are encouraged to contact agency representatives, listed on the websites, to help with navigation, clarifying information and applying for assistance programs.
Multiple Emergency Funding Options
With the majority of ERMA funding still available, landlords might encourage their tenants who are struggling with rent payments due to COVID-19 impacts to submit an ERMA/RAFT application. For that matter, landlords and other homeowners who have experienced a loss of income due to pandemic responses might be eligible for mortgage assistance themselves.
Further, Coxe pointed out, many municipalities across the state are providing additional emergency rental and assistance funding through local programs, some that will accommodate applicants with income up to 100% of AMI.
“If someone has lost income and is still at 80% or 100% of AMI, chances are they have other resources to tap,” Coxe said.
For example, the City of Springfield has set aside $2 million in grant funds to help low- to moderate-income renters and homeowners whose income has been reduced due to COVID-19 and the response. That fund is administered in partnership with Way Finders.
In addition to the income requirement for ERMA eligibility, applicants must also currently own or rent housing in Massachusetts as their primary residence and must have a verifiable housing emergency due to COVID-19 and the response. This could mean renters are in danger of being evicted for nonpayment of rent once the eviction moratorium is lifted, or at risk of becoming homeless. Or it could pertain to homeowners who are vulnerable to home foreclosure due to mortgage payments in arrears.
The ERMA application process will require several pieces of documentation from all applicants:
- A form of identification including social security number.
- Proof of income (e.g., a pay stub or bank statement showing automatic deposit).
- Proof of housing (e.g., a lease or mortgage statement).
- Proof of financial hardship related to COVID-19 (this could be a letter from an employer, a note stating loss of childcare, etc.).
- Proof of mortgage or rent amount due or past due (e.g., letter from a landlord, or loan statement).
ERMA For Renters
In addition to the above documentation, renters must also obtain from their landlord or property manager:
- A completed W9 tax form.
- Proof of property ownership (e.g., a copy of the deed).
- A signed statement that the owner will not evict renter for payments covered by RAFT or ERMA.
ERMA For Homeowners
Homeowner applicants for ERMA/RAFT must provide:
- Proof of property ownership.
- A copy of the mortgage statement that verifies your lender and where to send mortgage payments.
Contact Your Local HCEC
Response time for ERMA applications will vary widely, depending on the municipality in which you apply. For example, applications are increasing rapidly in the Boston area, according to the Metro Housing Boston website, and processing may therefore take more time than usual.
But it’s important for renters and homeowners to know that funding is available to help people remain in their homes. For anyone struggling with next month’s or past months’ payments, your local HCEC is the place to get started toward finding help.