Tenants applying for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program after July 1 will see a decrease in the maximum annual benefit amount following the state budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2024.FY24 began on July 1 with only an emergency appropriation in place of a budget. Without a clear path for the future of the RAFT program, the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC, formerly DHCD) announced it would be cutting RAFT benefits, effective July 1. The amount of funds a family can access through RAFT has been decreased from $10,000 to $7,000 in any 12-month period.
In addition to capping benefits, the new RAFT guidelines remove the ability to use RAFT funds for future rent payments. This is a big change to the program that will likely impact many applicants.
30-day Grace Period Announced for RAFT Applications
The EOHLC stated that applications received prior to July 1 that are approved by July 30 will fall into a 30-day grace period. These applicants will still be eligible for the old benefit limit of up to $10,000. Applicants who are approved within this grace period will also still be able to use RAFT benefits toward a one-month future rent stipend.
This is concerning because, as we know, RAFT is a slow process, and applications are frequently timed out or rejected for being incomplete. This means that only those with strong initial applications that have no missing information or documentation are likely to benefit from this grace period. Anyone who does not speak English well enough to understand what is being asked for, who is not tech-savvy enough to ensure all their documents are uploaded, or has a significant communication barrier is more apt to get left behind. This policy is almost certainly going to have a disparate impact based on several protected-class statuses.
Homeowners Assistance Fund Closed; Homeowners May Access RAFT
After June 30, the Massachusetts Homeowners Assistance Fund (HAF) stopped accepting new applications. As of July 1, RAFT resumed allowing homeowners to apply for RAFT assistance to cover mortgage arrears.
Though it was designed for any homeowner whose owner-occupied home was at risk of foreclosure during Covid-19, many landlords did not make use of this program. Instead, in the wake of the pandemic, many landlords got out of the rental property game altogether.
To apply for RAFT, landlords, tenants and homeowners should use the state’s RAFT application page.