cartoon image of a series of apartment buildings and houses with the words "Finding Home: A Guide To Help You Find Housing (and keep it too!)"

Finding rental housing is a big task. This guide was created to help you through your housing search, and as you find your new home! It doesn’t cover everything related to housing or go into depth on any one topic area. It does give you the information you need to get you started with your search, and helps you keep track of where you’re looking and what you’re looking for.

This guide was written by the team at the COMPASS Helpline, with information and insight from user-experts – people who’ve looked for housing themselves or have supported someone else during their housing search. We’d like to thank the members of our community who shared their wisdom with us, so that we could share it with you!

Please note that this information is provided for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal advice. The information in this guide reflects practices in Massachusetts only, at the time it was published.

Do you have suggested additions, comments, or other feedback about this guide? Contact Jill Gichuhi, COMPASS Helpline Director, at jgichuhi@namimass.org.

Getting Started
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We asked our community of housing search user-experts what they thought your should know about your housing search. Here’s what they said…

  • Finding housing can be hard work and take time. Be persistent, but patient – with the system and yourself!
  • Get support with your search! People who can help you filling out applications, people who can go with you to look at openings, people who can help you rally when the search starts to become overwhelming – take the support that comes your way.
  • Start early. Don’t wait until finding (or changing your housing) is an emergency.
  • Don’t rely on any one option. There’s a lot of different types of housing. Apply to as many programs and waitlists as you can to increase your chances.
  • Do a little each day. Finding housing can be hard.. Fill out a few applications or make a few calls each day, to make progress without getting overwhelmed.
  • Keep track of where you’ve looked. Write down the websites you’ve visited, the landlords you’ve reached out to, and applications you’ve filled out.
  • Keep your contact information updated. Most waitlists will check in with you periodically, to check if you’re still interested. If telephone number, email, address changes, make sure to update this information with the waitlist holder.
  • Find housing that works for now. You can continue to look for other options, even after you find housing.
  • Know your work isn’t done after you’ve found housing. Being a good tenant and maintaining your housing takes work, too!
Who can help me find housing?

Finding housing can be hard. It helps to have people who can support you with your search! Here are some ideas for who may be able to help you…

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Use this document to keep track of the people that can help you with your housing search and beyond.

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Independent Living Centers are run by and for people with disabilities. They help people set goals and explore options for living independently. Independent Living Centers often support people with finding housing.

Your local Independent Living Centers can help you understand housing options and how to look for housing, support you with completing applications, and help you ask for housing-related accommodations. Many Independent Living Centers offer free workshops about housing, which can be a good place to start with your search.

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Housing Consumer Education Centers are programs that help people make informed decisions about their housing. Your local Housing Consumer Education Center can help you with your housing search, accessing rental assistance programs, understanding your housing rights, and more.

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Community Action Programs are organizations that help people gain self-sufficiency. They address the causes of poverty through programs that fight unemployment, inadequate housing, poor nutrition, and lack of educational opportunity. Some Community Action Programs directly support people with housing searches

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If you get support from the Department of Mental Health’s Adult Community Clinical Services program or Program of Assertive Community Treatment, the housing specialist on your team can support you. The housing specialist can tell you about housing options, support you with your housing search, help you with completing applications, and take you to look at apartments. Once you have housing, the housing specialist can help you with asking for housing-related accommodations and resolving issues with your housing.

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Peer supporters and other members of your team can help you figure out your housing preferences, and offer emotional support and encouragement during the search process.

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Are you staying at an emergency shelter? Many shelters offer housing search help and other support for their guests. 

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Are you getting support from a Clubhouse or Recovery Learning Community (RLCs)? Ask there for help with finding housing. Clubhouses and RLCs often support their members with housing searches. 

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Do you get support from a therapist, care manager, community partner, or other support person? This person may not know where to look for housing or how to apply, but may be able to help you fill out applications or ask for housing accommodations.

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Do you have a trusted family member or friend? This person can help you to keep track of your search or take you to check out apartments – and even work your way through this guide!

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You can contact the NAMI Mass COMPASS Helpline if you need help finding resources related to housing and other supports. COMPASS is available Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Call us at 617-704-6264 or email us at compass@namimass.org.

What do I need from my home?

Before you begin your housing search, it will be helpful to think about the things you want or need from your new home. Here are some things to think about…

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You can start by making a list of the cities and towns you would want to live in. Begin with the places you most want to live, and then list the places that you find less desirable but still okay. You’ll use this list throughout your housing search!

You can use this document to keep track of the cities and towns you would want to live in.

You can use a map to help figure out city and town names.

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After you make your list, look up the maximum fair market rent for each city and town and write it on the line next to the city or town name. You will use this amount later on, to hep figure out your housing costs. Use ERAP FMR Lookup, select Massachusetts from the state list, the the city or town that you want to look up, then find the Fair Market Rent for a one bedroom and write it below.

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Next think about other aspects of the location that may be important to you. For example, you may want to live near family or friends, or on a public transit line. You may also prefer to live in a big city or in a small town.

You can use this document to keep track of other location aspects that are important to you. Check off how important each thing is for you. You may also add your own things to the list.

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Once you finish with this, go back to your list of cities and towns and move down or remove any that do not have the aspects you’re looking for. If you’re not sure about a city or town, you can use Google to find out more about it.

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Next think about the other preferences you have. This could include having a yard or off-street parking, or wanting to live in an apartment or a house.

You can use this document to keep track of your other housing-related preferences. You may also add your own things to the list.

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It takes a lot of different skills to live successfully on your own. Take some time to think about what skills you currently have, what skills you can build, and what you will need help with.

You can use this list as a starting place. For any skills you will need help with, think about who can help you with it. This could include a person you know, like a family member or friend. It could also be a program or service.

If you will need help in a lot of areas, consider a supportive housing option. Supportive housing is housing with services that help you stay in your home and live as independently as possible. You can read more about supportive housing below.

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It’s important to know how much you can afford to pay for your new home each month. This information will help you decide if you should apply for public housing or a housing subsidy, think about living with roommates, or can afford to live on your own.

You can use this chart to estimate how much you can spend on housing each month. 

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Once you have figured out the amount left for housing, compare that to your city and towns list and the fair market rent that you looked up for each location on the list. Ask yourself…

  • Is the amount you have left for housing more than the fair market rent for your preferred locations? If yes, you’re a step closer to finding your new home! 
  • Is the amount you have left for housing less than the fair market rent for your preferred locations? Is it a little less? Think about ways you can cut back on other expenses or look for some neighboring cities and towns where the fair market rent is lower.
  • Is the amount you have left for housing less than the fair market rent for your preferred locations? Is it a lot less? You’ll need to start thinking about less expensive housing options – like moving in with roommates, getting a single room occupancy, or applying for public housing or a housing subsidy.
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Having a roommate can be a great way to save on housing costs, split cleaning duties, and have built-in company. Before you decide to move in with someone, it’s smart to learn more about them and the housing situation you’ll be moving into.

Here’s a list of questions to get you started!

How do I get ready for my housing search?

You’re almost ready to start your housing search! Take some time to learn more about the different types of rental housing, and gather needed documents and information.

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There’s a few major types of housing  that you may want to apply for – read below to learn about each of these. Know that sometimes your ideal housing situation will not be available to you right away. The more types and opportunities you are open to, the more successful you’re going to be with your search.

You can use this list to keep track of the types of housing you want to apply for.

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Market rate rental housing is housing that has a cost in line with similar housing in the same area. There usually are no restrictions on who can rent it. Market rate housing can include houses, multi-family homes, and apartments. If your income is limited, it will be hard to afford market rate housing on your own, but finding a roommate or renting a room in someone’s home could be an option.

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Affordable housing is housing that rents for less than other properties in the area. It is usually restricted to people who have low to medium income, though the amount of rent you pay does not change if your income does. Housing lotteries are a big source of affordable housing. Many rooming housing are also affordable. Some affordable housing is especially for seniors or people with disabilities, while other options are for anyone who is income eligible.

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Subsidized housing is private housing where the renter has a subsidy to help pay for rent. A housing voucher is one kind of housing subsidy. With a housing voucher, people with low to medium income pay a part of that income each month towards rent. The remainder of the rent is paid by a local housing authority or regional administrating agency. Other housing subsidies are funded by tax credits to property owners and US Department of Agriculture.

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Public housing is housing that is owned by the local housing authority or regional administrating agency. Like subsidized housing, public housing is limited to people with low and medium income who pay part of that income to rent each month.

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Supportive housing is housing that comes with services that help a person stay in their home and live as independently as possible. Supportive housing is usually restricted to people with disabilities or elders.

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Before you start your search, take some time to gather needed information and documents. You can use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need!

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It’s likely that your credit history will be checked during the housing search process. Housing authorities, landlords, and other housing providers may use your credit history to help determine if you’ll be a reliable tenant. Because of this, it’s good to check your credit report and score, and work to resolve any issues that you discover. You can use the links below to learn more.

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It’s also likely that your criminal record will be checked during your housing search. Your criminal record will include offenses that you’ve been charged with. If you think you may have criminal charges, it’s a good idea to get a copy of your Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). If you have past charges on your record, you can explore sealing or expunging your record. Learn more at the links below.

How Do I Find Housing?

It’s time to get searching!

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You can use this handout to keep track of where you plan to search for housing and where you’ve applied.

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Market rate rental housing is housing that has a cost in line with similar housing in the same area. There usually are no restrictions on who can rent it. Market rate housing can include houses, multi-family homes, and apartments. If your income is limited, it will be hard to afford market rate housing on your own, but finding a roommate or renting a room in someone’s home could be an option.

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Affordable housing is housing that rents for less than other properties in the area. It’s often financed through local, state, or federal funding or tax breaks that are provided to property owners. It is usually restricted to people who have low to medium income, though the amount of rent you pay does not change if your income does.

Housing lotteries are a big source of affordable housing. Many rooming housing are also affordable. Some affordable housing is especially for seniors or people with disabilities, while other options are for anyone who is income eligible. Know that each affordable housing opportunity has it’s own application process.

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Where to look for affordable housing…

Affordable Housing Lotteries

MCO Housing Services

Maloney Properties

Harborlight Community Partners

city and town websites
search for affordable housing lottery or look on the page for the city or town’s Community Development department (this is different from the housing authority)

Rooming Houses

The Washington Square Residence

The Washington Square Residence offers affordable rooms and studios.

Washington Square Residences

Caritas Communities

Caritas Communities offers furnished rooms for people with low income in the greater Boston are and beyond.

Caritas Communities

YMCAs and YWCAs

Many local YMCAs and YWCAs offer affordable housing programs for people with limited income.

Your local YMCA

Your local YWCA

Other Options

MassHousing

MassHousing finances the construction and preservation of affordable rental housing throughout Massachusetts. Use the link below to get list a of MassHousing-financed properties across the state. Each property maintains its own waitlist, so you have to apply and get on the waitlist for each.

MassHousing Rental List
MassHousing Workforce Housing Developments

MassAccess Housing Registry

The MassAccess Housing Registry helps people find affordable rental and home ownership opportunities in Massachusetts.

MassAccess Housing Registry

Metrolist

The Metrolist is a clearinghouse for income-restricted and affordable housing opportunities in Boston and neighboring communities.

Metrolist

local Housing Consumer Education Center

Your local Housing Consumer Education Center (co-located at regional administrating agencies) can help you identify other affordable housing opportunities in their area.

Find your Housing Consumer Education Center

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Subsidized housing is private housing where the renter has a subsidy to help pay for rent. A housing voucher is one kind of housing subsidy. With a housing voucher, people with low to medium income pay a part of that income each month towards rent. The remainder of the rent is paid by a local housing authority or regional administrating agency. Other housing subsidies are funded by tax credits to property owners and US Department of Agriculture.

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State Funded Vouchers

Massachusetts offers two main housing voucher programs – the Alternative Housing Voucher Program and the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program.

Some vouchers are mobile, meaning the voucher holder is the renter and it can follow the person when they move as long as they remain eligible. Other vouchers are project-based, meaning the property owner is the voucher holder and the voucher stays with the unit when the person moves.

for people with limited income

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) is a state funded voucher program for people and families with low income. MRVP includes both mobile and project-based vouchers. The waitlist for mobile vouchers is currently closed. Contact your local housing authority to ask about project-based vouchers and their waitlist and application process.

Local Housing Authority Contact Listing

for people with disabilities

Alternative Housing Voucher Program

The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) provides rental assistance to people with disabilities under the age 60, who either live in, or are eligible to live in state-assisted elderly/disabled public housing. The AHVP is a mobile voucher program. Not all housing authorities have offer the AHVP. You can use the link below to find housing authorities that offer the AHVP, and apply for the AHVP through the Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs (CHAMP).

AHVP Fact Sheet
for a list of housing authorities that offer the AHVP

Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs (CHAMP)

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Federally-Funded Housing Vouchers

There are several federal housing voucher programs.

Some vouchers are mobile, meaning the voucher holder is the renter and it can follow the person when they move as long as they remain eligible. Other vouchers are project-based, meaning the property owner is the voucher holder and the voucher stays with the unit when the person moves.

for people with limited income

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program

Section 8 is a federally funded housing voucher program for people with low to moderate income. Section 8 includes both mobile and project-based vouchers. There are several ways to apply.

DHCD Statewide Waitlist

Apply at any of the regional administrating agencies to be placed on the statewide waitlists that is maintained by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Massachusetts Section 8 Centralized Waiting List

Most housing authorities in Massachusetts with Section 8 vouchers participate in the Centralized Waiting List. Apply to this list to be placed on the waitlists for each participating housing authority.

Local Housing Authorities

Some local housing authorities maintain their own waitlists. As you apply to the Centralized Waiting List, check your list of cities and towns from Part 2. If any of those cities or towns are not on the list of participants for the Centralized list, you can call that housing authority directly to ask about their Section 8 waitlist.

You can also ask about project-based Section 8 vouchers and their waitlist and application process. Note that some of these waitlists may be limited to residents of that city or town, and some may be closed to new applicants.

for people who are unhoused

Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy Program

The Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy Program provides project-based housing assistance for people who are unhoused. The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) administers 5 Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation SRO developments. One of these developments is especially for people who are living with HIV or AIDS, two are for people who have veteran status. You can reach out to DHCD to learn more about these developments and how to apply.

Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy Program

for veterans

HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program

The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program is a housing voucher program for veterans who have also have mental health conditions or substance use issues. VASH typically serves veterans who meet the federal definition of “chronically homeless” and their families. You can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans for information on how to apply for VASH and other housing assistance programs for veterans.

National Call Center for Homeless Veterans
1-877-424-3838

for people with disabilities

Section 8 Mainstream Program and Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities
The Section 8 Mainstream Program and Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities (NED) are specialized housing voucher programs for people with disabilities and their families. You can use the Technical Assistance Center’s Database of Vouchers for People with Disabilities to find cities and towns that have these vouchers, and reach out to any housing authorities that do.

Section 8 Mainstream Program and Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities

Database of Vouchers for People with Disabilities

Local Housing Authority Contact Listing

for people with children who have DCF involvement

Section 8 Family Unification Program

The Family Unification Program provides housing assistance to families with children who are in a foster care placement, at risk of a foster care placement, or who have been displaced due to domestic violence, as well as youth who have aged out of foster care. Applicants must have an open case with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Speak with your DCF case worker to learn more about this program.

Section 8 Family Unification Program

for people living with HIV or AIDS

Section 8 Tenant Based Rental Assistance

The Section 8 Tenant Based Rental Assistance provides rental subsidies and support services for people living with HIV or AIDS. People involved in this program receive a housing voucher, housing counseling and search help, and other supportive services. Applicants must be referred by JRI Health.

Section 8 Tenant Based Rental Assistance

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Other Subsidized Housing

Aside from housing vouchers, there are several other types of project-based housing subsidy programs.

for people with limited income

Low Income Housing Tax Credit Properties

Low Income Housing Tax Credit program provides a tax credit for individuals, partnerships, and corporations who invest in a low-income housing. In return for the credit, property owners charge a reduced rent to qualified renters with low to moderate income. You can use the HUD Resource Finder to search for properties participating in this program. Make sure to select Low Income Housing Tax Credit Properties from the layer menu to identify these properties.

HUD Resource Finder

for people with limited income who want to live in rural areas

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Multi-Family Housing Rentals

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) also provides housing subsidies in rural areas around the country. These subsidies work like project-based housing vouchers, and the subsidy helps fund a particular unit in a property. Eligible people with limited income can apply for these units, which typically have a waitlist. You can use the map linked below to find USDA subsidized rental properties. Reach out directly to the contact for each property to apply.

USDA Multi-Family Housing Rentals in Massachusetts

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Public housing is housing that is owned by the local housing authority or regional administrating agency. Public housing is limited to people with low and medium income who pay part of that income to rent each month. Like vouchers, some public housing opportunities are funded by the state, and others are funded by the federal government. Some public housing opportunities are especially for seniors or people with disabilities, while some is for anyone who is income eligible.

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State Funded Public Housing

for people with limited income

Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs (CHAMP)

You can apply for state-aided public housing and the Alternative Housing Voucher Program using the Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs (CHAMP). CHAMP is an online application. You can also use this application to update an existing application.

Common Housing Application for Massachusetts Programs (CHAMP)

You can also apply for public housing using a printed application. Note that you do NOT need to fill out the printed CHAMP if you have already completed the online application.

How to Apply for Public Housing

Local Housing Authorities

Some local housing authorities maintain their own application process and waitlist. As you apply to the CHAMP, check your list of cities and towns from Part 2. If any of those cities or towns are not on the list of participants for the CHAMP, you can call that housing authority directly to ask about their state-aided public housing opportunities.

Local Housing Authority Contact Listing

Many housing authorities set aside housing especially for elders and people with disabilities of any age, including some supportive housing options. You can also ask about these housing opportunities when you call the housing authority.

Supportive Housing

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Federally-Funded Public Housing

for people with limited income

You can use the HUD Resource Finder to search for federally funded public housing. Make sure to select Public Housing Buildings and Public Housing Developments from the layer menu to identify these properties. Once you’ve located opportunities, you can call that housing authority directly to ask about their federally funded public housing application process and waitlist. Many housing authorities set aside housing especially for elders and people with disabilities of any age. You can also ask about these housing opportunities when you call the housing authority.

HUD Resource Finder

Local Housing Authority Contact Listing

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Supportive housing is housing that comes with services that help a person stay in their home and live as independently as possible. Supportive housing is usually restricted to people with disabilities or elders. Supportive housing can be “bundled,” meaning the support and housing are overseen by the same department or agency and eligibility is determined together. It can also be ‘unbundled,” meaning the housing and support are overseen by different departments or agencies and eligibility for the housing or support are not dependent on each other. With unbundled supportive housing, a person may have market rate, affordable, subsidized, or public housing.

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for people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition

Department of Mental Health

The Department of Mental Health (DMH) serves people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition who need a high level of support. DMH can provide supportive housing for people who are eligible for their services and need the level of support and structure that supportive housing can offer.

DMH offers a continuum of supportive housing options. This includes group living environments and supportive services for people living in their own home or with family. DMH oversees it’s own housing voucher program, the DMH Rental Subsidy Program, for eligible members with limited income. DMH also identifies people to participate in the DMH/DDS Set-Aside Program, an affordable housing program for eligible people with low to moderate income who are eligible for DMH or Department of Developmental Disabilities services.

If you’re already eligible for DMH services and think you need additional support, you can speak to your case manager or team lead about supportive housing.

If you’re not already eligible for DMH services, you can learn more about the support that DMH offers and download an application from the links below. You can call the area DMH office that serves where you or the person who will be applying lives to be connected to someone who can answer your questions about DMH and the application process.

DMH Adult Services Overview

Apply for DMH Services

Find a DMH Area Office

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for people who have been diagnosed with intellectual or developmental impairment

Department of Developmental Disabilities

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) serves people who have been diagnosed with intellectual or developmental impairment who need a high level of support. Like DMH, DDS can provide supportive housing for people who are eligible for their services and need the level of support and structure that supportive housing can offer.

DDS also offers a continuum of supportive housing options. This includes group living environments, shared living situations, and “unbundled” supportive services for people living in their own home or with family. DDS also identifies people to participate in the DMH/DDS Set-Aside Program, an affordable housing program for eligible people with low to moderate income who are eligible for DDS or DMH services.

If you’re already eligible for DDS services and think you need additional support, you can speak to your case manager or team lead about supportive housing.

If you’re not already eligible for DDS services, you can learn more about the DDS application process from the link below. You can call the area DDS office that serves where you or the person who will be applying lives to be connected to someone who can answer your questions about DDS and the application process.

Apply for DDS Services

Find a DDS Area Office

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for people living with HIV and AIDS

Supportive Housing for people living with HIV and AIDS

There are several supportive housing programs for people living with HIV or AIDS in Massachusetts. Some programs are federally-funded through the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, while others are funded through state, local, and private sources. You can apply directly to these programs.

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for people dealing with substance use

Sober Homes

Sober homes are programs that offer housing and support to people are in substance use recovery. Most sober homes in Massachusetts are certified by the Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing. You can use their website to find sober homes that have been certified.

Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing

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for elders and people with disabilities

Congregate Housing

Congregate Housing is a shared living arrangement that combines housing and services for older adults and people with disabilities. It’s a good opportunity for people who do not feel comfortable living alone, and need less than 24 hours of care or supervision. You can learn more about congregate care by contacting a provider directly.

Congregate Housing

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for elders and people with disabilities

MassHealth

MassHealth offers a few bundled and unbundled support options for eligible members.

Adult Family Care

Adult Family Care (AFC – sometimes called Adult Foster Care) is an services for elders and people with disabilities who cannot live safely on their own. Typically with AFC, non-professional caregivers are paid to provide support to the person within their or the person’s home. To be eligible for AFC, the person must have MassHealth and need help with at least one activity of daily living. To find out more about AFC, contact your local Aging Services Access Point.

Aging Services Access Point

Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program

The MassHealth Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program helps people with disabilities live independently in their community. A PCA can help you with bathing, dressing, grooming, taking medications, eating, toileting, and other daily tasks. You need to be evaluated prior to accessing PCA services. You can contact your local Independent Living Center to learn more about PCA services and the evaluation process.

Find your local Independent Living Center

Other Support from MassHeath

If you have MassHealth and Medicare, you may be able to access additional in-home support by enrolling in a One Care or Senior Care Option plan, or the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly.

One Care – MassHealth and Medicare plan for people 18 – 64

Senior Care Options – MassHealth and Medicare plan for people 65 and older

Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly – for people 55 and older who need nursing home level care

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for people with disabilities

Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Home Care Assistance Program

The Home Care Assistance Program provides homemaking services to people with disabilities under 60. A homemaker can help with meal preparation, grocery shopping, medication pickup, laundry and light housekeeping.

Home Care Assistance Program

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for elders

Home Care Services for Elders

Home Care Services are designed to provide support people over age 60 to help them remain in the community. Home Care Services can include help with personal care, housework, meal preparation, grocery shopping, laundry, and more. Contact your local Aging Services Access Point to learn more about Home Care Services.

Aging Services Access Point

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for elders and people with disabilities

Rest Homes and Nursing Homes

If you need day-to-day supervision or care, a rest home or nursing home may be an option. A rest home provides 24-hour supervision, meals, activities, and more for residents. A nursing home provides these services plus 24-hour nursing care. If you’re thinking about a rest home or nursing home, your local options counseling program can help you understand these care options and more. Options counseling is a free program for elders and people with disabilities of any age and their family members.

Options Counseling Program

I found housing, now what?

Now that you’ve found housing, there’s some things you should think about before you move into your new home and as you get settled….

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Before you move in to your new home, you may be asked to sign a lease. A lease is a written agreement between you and your new landlord. It generally includes how long you agree to rent your home for, how much you will pay for rent, who will pay for utilities, and rules you must follow to stay in good standing with your landlord.

If you’re not asked to sign a lease, you’re considered a “tenant at will.” This is a less-formal arrangement between you and your landlord. When you’re a tenant at will, you may still be asked to sign a rental agreement or there may be just a verbal agreement between you and your landlord.

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If you’re given a lease or rental agreement, make sure you read it carefully before signing. Ask your landlord any questions you have or about anything you don’t understand. You can also ask a trusted person for help with understanding what you’re agreeing to.

Make sure you also understand important information about your new home, including how to pay your rent, what to do with trash, and who to call when there’s an issue. This information may be included in your lease or rental agreement, but make sure to ask your landlord if it’s not.

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Before you move in, also make sure to ask your new landlord about utilities. Some utilities may be included in your monthly rent, while others you may have to pay out of pocket. For any utility that is not paid for by your landlord, you can also use the internet to find out what companies serve your area and what their prices are. Many utility companies offer special rates or packages for people with limited income.

Some utilities are essential, while others you can decide if you want or not. For some utilities, like gas and electric, there may be only one option for who provides it. For other utilities, like cable or telephone, you may be able to choose who provides it.

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If possible, research utility options before you move in and arrange to have them set up before or shortly after your move-in date.

Thinking About My Utilities (pdf)

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Moving into a new home can come with a lot of expenses. You may need to buy furniture, appliances, linens, other household necessities. Some of these things you will need right away, while others you will be able to get over time.

You may also have to pay a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, or for new locks and keys. The security deposit covers repairs for future damages that you may make to your new home. The last month’s rent helps ensure that the landlord gets paid if you move out without giving notice or have unpaid back rent. Both of these will be paid back to you when you move out, if they are not used. Make sure to get a receipt from your landlord for any expenses you pay before moving in.

If you’re having trouble paying expenses to your landlord, you can ask your landlord if they would be willing to set up a payment plan.

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Here are some other ways to get help with your moving related costs…

  • If you get support from Department of Mental Health (DMH), contingency funds may be available to help. Contingency funds can be used for incidental expenses that support your wellness and safety. Ask your Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS) or Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team leader about this.
  • Your local Community Action Program (CAP) may have funds to help with one-time emergency needs. You can reach out to your local CAP to ask.
  • You can also call Mass 2-1-1. This is an information and referral service that helps people find resources to meet their basic needs. They may be able to help you find other resources to cover moving-related costs. You can call Mass 2-1-1 to get started.
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You can use this handout to help plan for moving costs, and who can help with these costs.

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Buying groceries can be a big ongoing expense. The Food Source Hotline can help people find food pantries, community meals, and other food-related resources in their community. The Food Source Hotline can also screen callers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility. You can call the Food Source Hotline to get started.

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If your new home is a distance from where you were previously living, it may make sense to change some of the places you were getting health care and other essential supports. Think about each of the places you get care now, how often you get care there, and how easy it will be to get there from your new home. Also start thinking about options for finding new care, and who can help you with this.

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There’s a lot of different options for getting peer support! You can use this handout for keeping track of the options you want to try.

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Getting involved with your local Recovery Learning Community (RLC) is a great way to get connected with peer support. RLCs are communities of people who come together to support one another. They are run by and for people who have had experiences that are typically labeled as mental health symptoms. RLCs offer peer support groups, one-on-one support, wellness-based workshops, and more. They are free, open to all who want to join, and no insurance is needed.

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If you’re a young person, you can check out the Young Adult Access Center in your area for support by and for young people like you. Each center helps young adults build skills for independent living, learning, and employment, and offers opportunities for peer support and mentoring.

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Other options for getting peer support include NAMI Connection support groups and NAMI Peer-to-Peer classes, Depression Bipolar Support Alliance groups, and more.

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If you are someone who deals with addiction, currently uses substances, or has used substances in the past, you can join your local Peer Recovery Support Center (PRSC) for mutual support opportunities. PRSCs are run by and for people who have personal experience with substance use or addiction. They offer support groups, one-on-one support, and more. They are free, open to all who want to join, and no insurance is needed.

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Beyond peer support, there are a lot of different ways to meet people who are near your new home. Here are some ideas you may want to check out…

  • volunteer at a local organization
    Volunteering is a great way to meet people and give back to your community at the same time! Try Volunteer Match to find volunteer opportunities near you.
  • take a class
    Local community colleges, and sometimes local high school or vocational schools, offer low-cost classes on any number of topics. This can be a fun way to learn a new skill – like cooking, photography, or typing – while meeting others. Local craft stores like Michael’s and Joanne Fabrics also offer low-cost classes on activities like quilting, knitting, scrap booking, or flower arranging.
  • join a sports team
    If you like to play sports, you can try an amateur sports team in your area! Use Zog Sports or League Lineup to find team near you.
  • try an exercise class
    Exercise classes are a fun way to meet people and keep healthy at the same time! Try Classpass to find classes near you.
  • join a house of worship
    Houses of worship can be a good place to start building community.
  • try Nextdoor
    Nextdoor is an app that helps you connect with people in your neighborhood, to exchange helpful information, goods, and services. Join your neighborhood.
  • try Meetup
    Meetup is also a great tool! MeetUp is website that you can use to find other people with the same interest in your area.
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Other options for meeting new people include local clubs and interest groups, game stores, group bike rides, and more. Google can be really helpful for finding activities in your area. Simply google the name of your city or town + an activity you like or would like to try (for example, “Quincy + board games”).

You can use this handout to keep track of the things you want to try!

How do I keep my housing?

Once you’re moved in, there are things you can do to help make sure you keep your housing….

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You may not know how to be a “good tenant,” especially if you’ve never lived in your own home before.

You can use this list as a starting place. It includes things you can do to help keep a good relationship with your landlord and neighbors. For any skills you will need help with, think about who can help you with it. This could include a person you know, like a family member or friend. It could also be a program or service.

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There are several state and federal laws that work together to protect people against housing discrimination. In most cases, it is illegal for a landlord, their employee, or a real estate broker to discriminate against you because of your:

  • disability (including a mental health diagnosis)
  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • ancestry
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • sexual orientation
  • marital status
  • religion
  • age (if you are 18 or over) – except in housing designated for people aged 55 and older

 

It is also illegal to discriminate against you because you:

  • are a current or former member of the military
  • are pregnant or have a child
  • get a federal, state, or local rental assistance or a housing subsidy
  • get public assistance or benefits like SSDI, SSI, or EAEDC

 

This means that the landlord cannot refuse to rent to you or require different conditions of you simply because you are a member of one of the groups listed above.

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If you think you’ve been discriminated against:

  1. write down what happened as soon as possible – including the date and time, who was involved, and what people said
  2. seek out helpyou can use the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder to find legal assistance
  3. consider filing a complaint – you can file with:
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If you have a disability, you have a right to ask for reasonable accommodations and modifications that could help you find or keep housing.

A disability is a mental or physical impairment that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities can include caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

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An accommodation is a change to a rule, policy, practice, or service that provides you with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy your home or meet housing-related requirements. You can request an accommodation from a landlord, a realtor, a condominium association, a housing lender, a housing authority, and any other housing-related person or entity.

Some examples of housing-related accommodations include:

  • getting forms in large print, if you have a vision problem
  • changing the day that rent is due, in line with when you receive a disability benefit payment
  • giving you an assigned parking space, if walking distances is a problem
  • waiving a no pet policy, if you have a service animal
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A modification is a physical or structural change to the home you live in or will move into that provides you with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy your home.

Some examples of housing-related modifications include:

  • installing a grab bar in the bathroom
  • installing a ramp at the entrance to your home
  • widening a doorway
  • installing a flashing doorbell

 

Note that the term accommodation is often used to mean both accommodations and modifications.

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How to request an accommodation or modification:

  • you can make the request verbally or in writing (in writing is suggested)
  • you do not have to use specific forms (but you can, if they are provided)
  • the person or entity you are requesting the accommodation or modification from may request more information about your disability
  • the person or entity will consider if the request is reasonable (the request is not reasonable if it places an undue financial or administrative burden on the person or entity, or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the program – this is determined on a case-by-case basis)
  • if the person/entity believes that the request is unreasonable, they should talk to you about alternatives

You can use these sample letters when you ask for accommodations or modifications.

You can use this handout to think about your need for accommodations or modifications during the housing search process or when you’ve found housing. It can also help you keep track of your accommodation or modification requests.

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If a requested modification is granted, state law requires the person or entity that you requested it from pay for it when:

  • you live in publicly assisted housing
  • you live in a building with 10 or more units

 

You must pay for modifications in other rental properties, but landlord cannot unreasonably refuse permission to make modifications. If the person or entity refuses your request for an accommodation or modification, or does not respond, you can file a complaint:

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Sometimes evictions happen, even when you’re trying to be a good tenant. Things to keep in mind if you think your landlord wants to evict you:

  • your landlord can make you move only out if your are evicted – this is a formal process, and simply telling you that they want you to leave does not count
  • your landlord cannot force you to leave, change the locks, or shut off your utilities – only a judge can order you to leave
  • to start the eviction process, your landlord must give you a Notice to Quit – this will list the date your tenancy will end – the timeline will depend on the reason you’re being asked to leave, what type of tenancy you have, and the terms of your lease if you have one
  • you do not have to move out on this date – the Notice to Quit is only the first step in the eviction process
  • your landlord also must serve you with a Summons – this is a form that tells you your landlord is taking you to court to evict you, the reason for the eviction, when and where the court hearing will be held, and when you must respond by

Read more: Eviction Information for Tenants

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If you receive a Summons, do not ignore it. Here are some things you can do: