By Kimberly Rau, MassLandlords Writer
The Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) has proposed an emergency budget recommendation to put an additional $50 million towards funding the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program. The proposal, which was sent to the Massachusetts House and Senate in May, focuses on the hardships faced by many lower-income residents in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid-19 is an unprecedented emergency that threatens the housing stability of residents across Massachusetts,” the proposal states. It goes on to thank the legislature for passing an eviction and foreclosure moratorium during the pandemic, but adds that more is still needed to ensure safe housing for Massachusetts residents. “Residents, especially those at the lowest incomes, will need both time and assistance in making… housing payments when the moratorium is lifted. RAFT… will be a critical tool for helping people stay stable in their homes when the state of emergency ends.”
For those unfamiliar with RAFT, it is cash assistance for families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless due to financial difficulty. You can read more about it in our RAFT overview article. The changes proposed by CHAPA would greatly extend RAFT’s reach.
Proposed Changes Increase Eligibility and Benefits Limits
One of the first changes would focus on eligibility for the program. Currently, only those whose incomes are at 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) are eligible. CHAPA is requesting that limit be temporarily increased to allow families with an income of 80 percent AMI to access RAFT, with a third of available funding directed towards extremely low-income households (defined as an income at or below 30 percent AMI).
“All low-income workers are being disproportionately impacted by the virus,” the proposal states, “including higher rates of job loss and COVID-19 infections.”
A second change would bump the maximum RAFT benefit from $4,000 to $10,000, in order to “more accurately represent the rent levels across the state and help provide more assistance for missed rent or mortgage payments during the prolonged crisis,” as stated in the proposal. A concern among renters is that once the eviction moratorium is lifted, landlords can immediately begin the eviction process, leaving tenants on the hook for months of missed rent.
Temporary Changes to Access Limits Could Increase Assistance
As it stands now, eligible families can only access RAFT once in a 12-month period. The proposal requests a temporary removal of that time limit, in order to allow more families to receive assistance.
CHAPA is also requesting that RAFT benefits not count against anything that could be potentially received from the HomeBASE program. HomeBASE is an emergency housing program for families who are homeless in shelters or in immediate danger of becoming homeless. It has a $10,000 assistance cap, and, as it stands now, any money received from RAFT counts towards that dollar amount. Under CHAPA’s proposal, the two programs would be separated. This would ostensibly allow one household to access up to $20,000 in assistance if the RAFT increase is also approved.
More Families are Seeking Assistance
CHAPA notes in the proposal that since the COVID-19 pandemic started, RAFT has seen a threefold increase in applications for assistance. With a $50 million cash infusion to the program, CHAPA estimates that RAFT could serve more than 6,100 households in Massachusetts, with an average assumed RAFT payment of $6,600 per household. (This number is based on data that shows the average household accessing RAFT benefits before the pandemic used two third of the allowed $4,000.)
CHAPA is urging people to contact their legislators in favor of this expansion of RAFT. MassLandlords has had conversations with CHAPA about alternatives that could provide enough funding to fully cover rent arrears (order $1 billion), including a Fair and Equal Housing Guarantee via Surety Bonds.
Note: At the time of this writing, the Massachusetts legislature has sent a $1.1 billion COVID-19 supplemental budget to the governor for signature. This includes $20 million for additional RAFT funding, which would allow citizens to access up to $10,000 in RAFT monies.