Opioid Task Force, North Quabbin Community Coalition highlight housing help

  • Amanda Watson spoke at a webinar Thursday about changes to emergency housing assistance programs. Watson is the director of the Housing Consumer Education Center at the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority. Screenshot


Staff Writer
Published: 1/30/2022 5:19:09 PM
Modified: 1/30/2022 5:17:39 PM

The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region partnered with the North Quabbin Community Coalition to host a webinar Thursday afternoon to discuss recent changes in the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) and Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and how people who are having difficulty paying rent can benefit from these programs.

The discussion, led by Amanda Watson, director of the Housing Consumer Education Center for the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority, focused primarily on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s expanded eligibility requirements.

“If someone in your household receives MassHealth or DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance), you would become automatically income-eligible for the program,” Watson noted. “That was one of the newest changes that we’re definitely excited about because that definitely puts more folks in the eligibility category.”

Watson encouraged people who have fallen behind on rent, mortgage or utility bills to apply for the programs — both of which share a universal application. She added more people will be eligible for the federally-funded rental assistance program, while the state-funded Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program is more strict.

Additional eligibility requirements include applicants earning up to 80% of the area’s median income, which is $53,850 for a two-person household in Franklin County, according to the state’s website. The programs can only cover accrued rent and utility bills since March 13, 2020. Applicants must also list a COVID-19-related impact as to why they are applying, but Watson said no official documentation is required and the majority of society has been impacted by the pandemic in some way or another.

“In general, you do have to have a COVID reason for applying for RAFT,” Watson said. “I’d like to say that most of us who have lived on this planet for the last few years probably have a COVID reason.”

If approved, renters are eligible for up to 18 months of rental arrears or future rent, as well as up to $2,500 in utility bills. Residential Assistance for Families in Transition has a $7,000 arrear cap, while Emergency Rental Assistance Program has no cap.

As staffing shortages mount and the influx of applications continues to rise, Watson said the Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority is working through the 273 active applications “in the pipeline,” but it will take approximately two months to be approved.

“If you fill out an application today, it will take about 7½ to eight weeks before you are approved,” Watson said. “We are moving as quickly as we can. … There’s so many folks currently applying that it’s taking longer than we would like, but we’re not moving slower than anyone else.”

Heather Bialecki-Canning, executive director of the North Quabbin Community Coalition, highlighted the need for these types of assistance programs as the pandemic continues to affect people’s housing and financial situations.

“Here in the North Quabbin region, we know homelessness looks different than it looks in urban areas,” Bialecki-Canning said. “It’s so important that we as providers keep conversations going. This is where the rubber meets the road. … This is more than a regional problem, this is a statewide problem.”

For those seeking more information about the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, the state website has detailed information at bit.ly/3gkspP7. The Franklin County Regional Housing & Redevelopment Authority’s website can be accessed at fcrhra.org.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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