This article originally appeared in the February 2021 edition of Senior Scope. Article by Andrew Bardetti, Esq. & Juliana Madden, South Coastal Counties Legal Services.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it has become more difficult for many tenants to pay their monthly rent. The Pew Research Center published a study reporting that one in four Americans are finding it harder to pay bills due to COVID-19. If you are in need of assistance, the following resources may be able to help you.
Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA) function as homelessness prevention programs.
For all kinds of households at risk of homelessness during the COVID-19 state of emergency, RAFT provides up to $10,000 during a one-year period. This assistance is not limited to families with children. RAFT can help with: past and future rent, utility bills, security deposits, moving costs and other housing necessities.
ERMA is similar to RAFT, but has different financial eligibility guidelines. ERMA also provides up to $10,000 in financial assistance to families and individuals having trouble making housing payments during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
ERMA only helps with rent or mortgage arrears and stipends. Unlike RAFT, ERMA does not assist with moving costs or utility arrears. Bristol County applicants can apply for RAFT and ERMA through the NeighborWorks Housing Solutions website, nhsmass.org/apply-for-raft or by phone at 781-422-4204.
In addition to RAFT/ERMA, there may be other rental assistance options available to you. Catholic Social Services is a local nonprofit that can provide financial assistance to eligible people in need.
To access Catholic Social Services’ rental assistance options, applicants must be faced with eviction and have been served with a 14 day or 30 day Notice to Quit for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19.
If the eviction was not COVID-19 related, applicants must have been served with a Notice to Quit. To find out if you are eligible, applicants can call the New Bedford Coordinator at 508-999-4757 or the Fall River Coordinator at 774-520-2555. More information can be found at their website, cssdioc.org.
Another local agency which provides help to people with housing issues is People Acting in Community Endeavors, or “PACE.” The Housing Opportunity Center at PACE provides limited rental assistance for those individuals and families that are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The program also provides referrals to resources and provides housing search lists for people seeking permanent housing. To apply, call PACE’s Housing Opportunity Center at 508-993-0033.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions was extended to March 31, 2021, meaning that there is a pause on nonpayment evictions.
To be protected by the moratorium, tenants need to have signed the CDC declaration form and provided a copy to their landlord. Essentially, the form provides protection to people who have fallen behind on rent due to a loss of income or extraordinary medical expense; have applied for governmental assistance; would be homeless or doubled-up if evicted; and who have used best efforts to make rental payments.
Since the form is signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, make sure you read it carefully to make sure all of it applies to you before signing. To fill out or review the declaration, applicants can go to this link: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/declaration-form.pdf.
To learn more about the Massachusetts COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) and your rights, visit: evictionlegalhelp.org.
If you are experiencing homelessness, New Bedford’s Coordinated Entry System provides rapid shelter entry and rehousing options. To learn more, you can call 508-999-4757 or go to their website: nbhspn.com/1-800-homeless-is-coordinated-entry.
Additionally, at this time, some homeless shelters in the area have decided to allow constituents to directly call them for services instead of going through New Bedford Coordinated Entry System. Two local homeless shelters that can be contacted directly are Sister Rose’s House at 508-997-3202 and Grace House at 774-628-9743.
A helpful website provides a number of social services programs in the area, including rental assistance. To check out the website, go to: nbrenthelp.com.
Finally, South Coastal Counties Legal Services Offices (SCCLS) is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal help to low-income and disadvantaged residents of Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands in a variety of civil legal matters.
If you are facing eviction, been denied disability or unemployment benefits, experiencing domestic violence or are faced with another civil (non-criminal) legal issue, please call 1-800-244-9023 to apply for legal help. The intake line is open from Monday to Thursday between 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. To learn more about the services SCCLS provides, you can visit our website: sccls.org.
COVID-19 has taken a financial and emotional toll on thousands of citizens across the country and in our community. If you need help with rental assistance or are facing eviction, consider calling one of the organizations listed above for help during this challenging time.