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Resources for Boston-area renters during the coronavirus pandemic

Where can I go for coronavirus-related housing help? Where can I find affordable housing? Answers to these and other questions here

An aerial shot of a big metro region with a river running through it. Shutterstock

No doubt the novel coronavirus pandemic has spawned a lot of uncertainty for a lot of renters in the Boston area. (And there are many, many renters in the Boston area—perhaps 60 percent of residents in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville alone lease rather than own.)

Chief among their worries is making rent at a time of rising unemployment and loss of income. Also on the list: finding housing and/or moving to new apartments. Curbed Boston has answered—and will answer—a lot of these questions in this running post on what Boston-area renters should know (and please feel free to write in with your own questions to tom@curbed.com).

There are other resources too that tenants can utilize—and that, in many cases, they have a right to utilize. Here’s a rundown of renter resources as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds (we’ll be updating this too):

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

For starters, the state provides a solid online clearinghouse of tenant rights, including links to relevant statutes. The state attorney general’s office also has a rundown of tenant rights that might be more easily searchable.

Massachusetts also oversees the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program. RAFT is meant to prevent homelessness by providing short-term financial assistance to lower-income families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The state has added millions of dollars to RAFT in the wake of coronavirus.

Moreover, the state’s affordable housing website serves as a hub of information on subsidy programs, including federal ones and ones that individual towns and cities operate (an overview that can be helpful due to the many individual municipalities that comprise the Boston area).

Finally, the state maintains a database of physically accessible apartments, including ones that are subsidized and ones that are no-barrier.

City of Boston

Boston has launched what it calls the Rental Relief Fund for tenants based on income and on the nature of their unemployment benefits—namely, if the tenant does not have access to expanded unemployment benefits and if the benefits represent a significant reduction in income. Applications for the $3 million fund will be available starting April 6.

Also, like the state, New England’s largest city has its own clearinghouse of information on tenant rights, including for college students. There’s also the Office of Housing Stability, which is exactly what it sounds like: an arm of the city’s government designed to prevent the displacement of Bostonians. It can be reached at 617.635.4200.

Also, if you’re worried about finding affordable housing or even how to get started on such a search, Boston maintains what it calls Metrolist. Users can search it via four affordable opportunities, including available rental listings. And landlords and other owners can list their properties through Metrolist.

Once through one of these four portals, there are further search options, including via neighborhood and price points—and, crucially, the incomes necessary for securing affordable housing.

And one important note on Metrolist and Boston affordable housing in particular: The city uses “affordable housing” as what it describes as “a relative term.” The properties listed and searchable through Metrolist can vary from what seems like downright market-rate, the sort only mildly subsidized—apartments with free months of rent, for instance—to units that the city or the state genuinely subsidizes via vouchers and artificially low costs.

City of Cambridge

Find a complete rundown of resources for Cambridge renters at this city-maintained website. The site includes links, too, to groups such as HomeStart, a nonprofit that aims to prevent homelessness, and different entities that can provide renters legal advice.

Cambridge has also launched an effort dedicated to helping residents deal with housing issues during the pandemic. There’s a website for the effort, and the phone number is 617.349.9777.

City of Somerville

Somerville’s Office of Housing Stability is aimed at providing tenants and landlords information and advice as well as aid on and in applying for housing-related financial assistance. The agency also helps in housing searches and in referrals for free legal assistance for especially at-risk tenants; and will try to find alternate affordable housing. Here's the online referral/self-referral form. The office’s referral line is 617.625.6600, x2581.

Tenants should also check Somerville’s Housing Division website for information re: renters and landlords as well as affordable housing opportunities in the city.

Somerville’s coronavirus response directs residents to the state’s RAFT program, including information on how to apply.