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 will cover the following topics:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Public housing vouchers
  • Who’s eligible for public housing and vouchers?
  • Temporary Housing, Emergency Housing and Shelters
  • Resettlement
  • Avoiding Homelessness

Affordable Housing Programs

The terms affordable housing covers a range of different programs that assist low-income families and individuals who for various reasons struggle to find their own living arrangement. Housing is usually defined as “affordable” if it costs below 30% of the family’s gross income, which  is typically calculated as the combined income of all members above 18 years. Income limits for public housing and vouchers are set by the government and can change every year.

Public housing and Vouchers

Housing programs include public housing, which are properties owned by either state or federal authorities, as well as rental assistance programs or vouchers, which help cover a portion of the rent for an apartment individuals finds themselves in the private market.

In the United States, public housing are places of residence that are owned either by the national, state, or local government. Public housing usually caters to individuals, families, disabled people or the elderly, or other individuals who for various reasons struggle to find and pay for their own lodging. They are more affordable than houses or apartments that are privately owned and sold, and your portion of rent is contingent on your household’s total income. Many of these housing complexes are in city areas, where is it generally more expensive to live than outside the city. By providing affordable housing in and around the city, these programs allow residents to work in the city without worrying about extensive commuting, which can also be expensive. Public housing can take many forms in terms of layout. Some public housing units are high-rise apartments while others are smaller and look more like houses. There are also various options for numbers of bedrooms, so both large and small families can be accommodated. Families must make below a certain income in order to live in public housing. That income level is determined by multiple factors, like location, number of residents and type of housing.

Along with affordable housing, there are also government programs which provide vouchers in order to assist with paying rent. The recipient finds an eligible apartment in the private market, while the housing authority or nonprofit agency administering the voucher approves the contract, makes periodical inspections to control the conditions of the apartment, and conducts a yearly review of the recipient’s income and household composition. There are both state and federal voucher programs, like theMassachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MVRP), and Section 8 vouchers. While Section 8 vouchers require citizenship or eligible immigration status, MVRP does not.

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 hava 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” was coined to encompass the different categories of noncitizen who are “not prohibited” from receiving federal public benefits, including housing benefits. Qualified aliens include:

  • Legal Permanent Residents (an alien admitted for lawful permanent residence (LPR));
  • 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; and
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants (as defined by P.L. 96-422).

This means 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., unauthorized aliens). 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 nonqualified aliens in the household.”

State Programs
In Massachusetts, no state public housing should require information about your immigration status. This means that no matter your immigration status, you may be eligible for state housing programs in Massachusetts. Remember that you should never falsely claim to be a citizen or an eligible noncitizen on your housing application, and always make sure to seek out legal help to get information about your particular case, as rules and laws may change. Note also that other criteria for eligibility apply. Your household can typically not earn more than 80 percent of the area median income to be eligible, and to live in state assisted elderly public housing, you must be at least 60 years old. If you are a person with a disability, you must meet certain criteria to be eligible for state or federal housing for disabled persons. Income limits for public housing and vouchers are set by the government and change every year.

Public Housing Assistance Programs on
Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)

Federal Programs

Federal programs are those who are funded by the national government as opposed to the Massachusetts state government. Some of these programs care about immigration status, while others do not – it depends on what federal program one is applying for.

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.

See a list of housing benefits on
See MassLegalHelp for more information on unrestricted programs here.
For eligibility for section 8, visit

Temporary Housing, Emergency Housing and Shelters

There are many emergency shelters across the Greater Boston Area that can help individual men, women or families who find themselves temporarily without a place to live, or who are in need of emergency housing because of domestic violence.

For Families
Different shelters have different requirements for who they will take in. For assistance with finding emergency shelter for families, visit Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Development, Emergency Assistance: (877) 418-3308,

The statewide Emergency Assistance (EA) program, run by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), 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 must have 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, see here.  See also MassLegalHelps guide here.

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. The DTA’s telephone number is (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.

For Individuals
There are additional organizations across Massachusetts that can provide shelter for men and women, either co-ed or separate, in a case of emergency. For assistance with finding emergency shelter for individuals, visit Boston Public Health Commission, Emergency Shelter Commission: (617) 635-4507,

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.

For lists of shelters in the greater Boston area consult the following links and organizations:
Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance

BOX: Shelters

Pine Street Inn
Serve homeless women and men over 18 years of age
– Offer shelter, housing, job training and more

Rosie’s Place
– For women
– Offer emergency housing, ESOL, literacy and computer classes
– Assistance with job and housing searches, as well as attorneys

Casa Myrna
– For victims of domestic violence
-Offer residential programs as well as counseling


In Massachusetts, the Office for Refugees and Immigrants is responsible for refugee resettlement planning and implementation and Coordination of Statewide Refugee Services. Voluntary agencies and ORR through their programs assist with their resettlement and integration into the U.S.

More on resettlement.

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 as care and compassion from staff members who help them get on their feet.     

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 for resettled refugees here, and see a list of resettlement agencies and other organizations providing services to refugees, persons newly granted asylum here.

Steps – How To

STEPS: The documentation requirements are dependent on (1) the housing program, (2) the citizenship status of the applicant, and (3) the age of the applicant.

Steps to identify who is eligible for housing:

1) Identify what type of housing is needed

2) identify immigration status

3) determine if the applicant is eligible

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