Raft Program Steps up to Help Pay Housing Costs in COVID-19

State leaders have combined efforts with Metro Housing|Boston to expand their long-standing RAFT (Rental Assistance to Families in Transition) program to help renters and homeowners who have lost wages and are facing potential loss of housing.

The RAFT program has been in place for many years, and has helped scores of residents in the Everett area as they have transitioned between housing situations. It is a program that prevents homelessness and has been a stop-gap for hundreds in the area who qualified under the strict program requirements. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic at hand, housing is one of three major areas of crisis that the state has identified, and the RAFT program has been tapped by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) as a program to help.

While the program is typically to pay rent or mortgages that are in arrears, the program is now being funded and used to pay rent and mortgages for vulnerable families before they fall behind.

“We are typically helping individuals who earn 30 to 50 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI),” said Lydia McCoy, RAFT program manager. “Right now, if someone is experiencing some sort of job loss, even if they aren’t yet in the 30 to 50 percent AMI range, they would be eligible for the program because of the job loss…The state and DHCD have been very flexible and accommodating with the program and helping to identify funding. They’ve been working very closely with us and other partners to help us help families.”

One thing that has been done locally is to find co-locations for the RAFT program, relying on 17 partners in the communities to administer the applications and help. In the Everett, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop areas, that place is the CONNECT center at The Neighborhood Developers (TND) headquarters in Chelsea.

Jaisyn Melenciano, Housing Supports & Co-location Training Manager, is overseeing the partnership with CONNECT. He said they are seeing so many more referrals than before.

“I think in these areas we are overseeing at CONNECT, what we’re encountering is a lot of undocumented folks losing wages and afraid they will lose their homes because they have no lease,” he said. “We can jump in there and relieve the situation.”

Prior to COVID, Metro Housing received between 10 to 20 RAFT pre-applications per day. Since March 30, the average peaked to 50 in early April, and in the last week has climbed to 45 pre-applications per day, also likely due to the May rent deadline.

This increase is reflected in the raw numbers as well. For example, the number of RAFT pre-applications received the 46 days before and 46 days after the state of emergency has increased from 586 to 1,885, more than a three-fold increase.

That is only expected to get bigger, and that is one reason it has been suggested that an additional $50 million appropriation will be needed for the RAFT program to help people stay in their homes when the State of Emergency is lifted and legislation and court protections expire.

“The further we get into this, the less shocking that number seems,” said Steve Farrell, director of communications and policy. “The reaction now if that $50 million seems like an appropriate number for the state…In the long-term, we want to be strategic on how to chart a course on being more responsive for what comes next.”

Already, the state and Metro Boston have shortened the 11-page application into a four page application to streamline the process and get help into the right hands fast. That has been a great innovation, and has helped those trying to get applications correctly filled out.

The program is taking online applications at its website, but CONNECT is available for phone calls to help fill out applications as well. The hotline number is: (617) 712-3487 with the RAFT extension numbers 703 for RAFT in English and 709 for RAFT in Spanish

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