For many undocumented immigrants, a lack of a social network and stable employment can lead to a difficult financial situation. For undocumented immigrants who find themselves without a place to live, navigating the various housing programs and laws may be difficult and daunting, as many are afraid to seek out help in fear of becoming deported. Knowledge about the different types of housing assistance programs and who funds them is crucial in order to figure out what rules apply to your situation and what your rights are.

The following page will give you an overview of the different housing assistance programs available to undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts, as well as 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
  • 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 to be placed in public housing. The short answer is that it all depends on the particular program one is considering. The first thing you need to do is to identify whether you are applying for state funded or federal funded public housing. Whereas state public housing in Massachusetts is available regardless of immigration status, only some federal programs are.

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 (see resource list to the right). 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 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. Some federal programs that do not discriminate based on immigration status include some federal multifamily buildings, housing opportunities for persons with AIDS (HOPWA), McKinney Homeless Programs (except for the McKinney Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program) and Shelter Plus Care.

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 MassLegalHelp for more information on unrestricted programs here, and read the important information on applying to public or subsidized housing as undocumented here.

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. Although most public benefit programs are unavailable for undocumented individuals, certain exceptions are made for emergency programs, which may cover emergency housing. Special exception is also given to those who have PRUCOL status, or who are survivors of trafficking. Please note that different shelters have different requirements for who they will take in, such as shelters that only serve families, women, or men.

For lists of shelters in the greater Boston area who may serve undocumented populations, consult the following pages:
Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance

BOX: Shelters for Undocumented individuals:

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

Special Eligibility: PRUCOL and victims of trafficking

The statewide Emergency Assistance (EA) program provides emergency shelter and rehousing services for homeless families with children, but require that at least one person in the family must have legal status (either citizenship or status as a legally present non citizen). Certain exemptions are, however, made for immigrants with special PRUCOL status, or for victims of severe forms of trafficking. Under law, victims of trafficking are in certain cases to be treated as refugees for eligibility purposes.

Different shelters have different requirements for who they will take in. The statewide Emergency Assistance (EA) program provides emergency shelter and rehousing services for homeless families with children, but require that at least one person in the family must have legal status (either citizenship or status as a legally present non citizen). The only exception is immigrants with special PROCUL status, who may be eligible.

If you have had your status or lived in U.S. less than 5 years, and do not qualify for any of the conditions above, you may be entitled to certain healthcare benefits as a PRUCOL (Person Residing in the US Under Color of Law) or Special Status immigrants. In general terms, you may have PRUCOL status if the US government knows you are living in the country and does not plan to make you leave. PRUCOL is therefore not an immigration status granted by the Department of Homeland Security, but rather a public benefits eligibility category based on your immigration status. From MassHealth: “Nonqualified PRUCOLs are certain noncitizens who are not lawfully present. These individuals may be permanently residing in the United States under color of law as described in 130 CMR 504.000. People who are nonqualified PRUCOLs and meet one of the following statuses may be eligible for MassHealth Standard, CommonHealth, Family Assistance, Limited, or CMSP. They may also be eligible for benefits through the Health Safety Net.”

As a PRUCOL immigrant, you may under certain conditions be eligible for:

While asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants are unable to apply for the EA program, there are multiple non-profit housing organizations that can help this group. As no list of such organizations exist to our knowledge, these need to be called and asked individually. You can find out if you have PRUCOL status by calling the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition at 617-350-5480 x208.

Avoiding Homelessness

ABCD Housing and Homelessness Prevention
Open Monday – Friday 9am-5pm, and individual must call and sign up for housing workshops. Provides help applying for and receiving public housing, help with housing vouchers and subsidized housing, housing court advocacy, shelter services, and rental assistance

Housing Families works to end family homelessness by offering safe, temporary shelter, quality affordable housing and individualized supportive services that nurture the potential of each family member and help maintain permanent housing.

Lawyers Clearinghouse on Affordable Housing and Homelessness: Lawyers Clearinghouse provides pro bono legal services to nonprofit organizations and to individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.


Steps to identify who is eligible for housing: /Checklist

Questions to ask to decide if you are eligible:

1) Decide what type of housing needs your family has. Whether you are applying as a single individual, a family, someone with disabilities, or whether you need public housing or help to pay rent via housing vouchers, there are different programs you may be eligible for. Your family’s combined income will also be a deciding factor in whether your eligible for certain programs.

2) Identify who funds the housing program you are applying for. Whether it’s a state or a federal program has implications for whether they look at your immigration status as a requirement.

3) Determine the applicant’s immigration status.

4) If there is an emergency situation where an individual or family is facing homelessness, contact one of the shelters that best fit the needs of the person or group. There are shelters for men and women, shelters only for women, shelters only for men, and shelters for families of people with children. Consult the resource list for more information and additional resources.

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