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Massachusetts will boost housing voucher values for some low-income renters

In this file photo, community organizer Zulmalee Rivera, who received the Massachusetts state voucher, holds a broom and looks out the window in her apartment in Springfield.
Nirvani Williams
In this file photo, community organizer Zulmalee Rivera, who received the Massachusetts state voucher, holds a broom and looks out the window in her apartment in Springfield.

Some Massachusetts residents who get government housing vouchers will find their subsidies worth more under a newly announced rule.

Low-income renters with housing vouchers have long claimed they are denied housing unfairly. That often comes down to discrimination by property owners based on "assumptions or bias about voucher-holders, that they are bad tenants," according to Jane Edmonstone of Community Legal Aid in Springfield.

"We also know that sometimes landlords feel that the program requirements — or the administrative burden of renting to a voucher-holder — is not attractive to them," she said.

But Edmonstone said there's another problem: the subsidies have been calculated based on what's considered fair market value in a region.

"The rents have been rising so quickly in Massachusetts that it's hard for the vouchers to keep up," she said. "So a lot of apartments just aren't available on that basis for voucher-holders."

But housing officials announced a change for about 30,000 vouchers that are administered directly by the state, including some Section 8 federal vouchers.

Starting in March 2024, fair market value will be calculated according to zip code, not region. Vouchers will cover higher rent in more expensive neighborhoods.

“This critical policy change will open rental opportunities for voucher-holders in higher rent neighborhoods while also bringing costs in lower-rent neighborhoods into better alignment with the actual rental market," Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Ed Augustus said in a statement. "Thanks to this change rental vouchers will be more valuable, more useful, and will give residents more opportunity and choice."

The state said the change won't apply to tens of thousands of other renters who get federal vouchers from local housing authorities.

Meanwhile, the state is also promoting its efforts to combat housing discrimination, which includes educating property owners about housing law and funding legal assistance for people who believe they were denied housing based on their vouchers.

“Right now, we have renters across the state looking to secure housing. It is critical that every resident with a housing voucher knows their rights and landlords of all kinds must understand that discrimination is illegal,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. “With a major housing shortage, the rental market is challenging enough, and we are committed to pursuing every available avenue to alleviate pressure on residents.”

These issues and others were featured in an NEPM series earlier this year focused on housing vouchers, including years-long waiting lists for eligible applicants.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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