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Victims or Witnesses of Domestic Violence Who Are Not Citizens

Produced by Mac McCreight, Greater Boston Legal Services

I am not a U.S. citizen and I do not have a green card. Can I still get public housing?

You can get help from housing programs that are paid for by the state of Massachusetts. Massachusetts housing programs do not require citizenship or green cards.

Many housing projects and developments have units that are paid for with Massachusetts state money. When you apply to a housing authority or other housing program, ask if they have any apartments or vouchers that are paid for with state money.

Here are some programs paid for with state money:

  • State public housing, for families and single individuals
  • Mass. Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) housing vouchers
  • Mass. Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) developments. Some apartments may be paid for by the federal government, so you need to ask for one paid with state money
  • Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) vouchers, for non-elderly persons with disabilities

If the housing authority or housing project has an apartment or voucher funded by one of these programs, ask to be placed on the waitlist. You may need to fill out a separate "emergency" application to go to the top of the waitlist.  See Finding Housing.

Can I get federal public housing?  

Federal public housing, Section 8 vouchers and Section 8 apartments are paid for by the federal government.

You have to be a citizen or an "eligible non-citizen" to get your rent fully paid by federal public housing or Section 8. 

You are an “eligible non-citizen” if: 

  • you are a legal permanent resident (you have a “green card” or
  • you are a refugee; or
  • you have asylum; or
  • you are a special agricultural worker; or
  • you have a “registry” case; or
  • you have “parole” status; or
  • your deportation or removal has been witheld [some people with Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) status have this]; or
  • you have residence under 8 U.S.C. 1255a (“legalization”).

If you have VAWA status as a victim of domestic violence, this does NOT mean that your are automatically an “eligible non-citizen” under federal housing rules. You have to also fit into one of the categories above.

If everyone living with you is a citizen or an "eligible non-citizen," you can get full assistance from federal housing programs.

If no member of your household is a citizen or eligible non-citizen, you can not get any federal housing assistance. 

If some but not all members of your household are citizens or eligible non-citizens, then you can get some assistance but not the full amount.  The amount of housing assistance you get will depend on how many people in your household are citizens or eligible non-citizens.


Say there are four people in your household. If two have asylum  and two do not have any legal status, then 50% of the household are "eligible non-citizens." Your household can get 50% of the federal program's housing assistance.

If only one of the people in the household is an eligible non-citizen and the other three are not, then 25% of the household are eligible non-citizens. In this situation, your household can get 25% of the federal program's housing assistance. 

See Housing Programs in Finding Housing.

If my family applies for help from a federal housing program, will the program check our immigration status?

For any household member under 62 years old who claims to be an eligible non-citizen, the federal housing program will check their immigration status with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, which used to be called INS).

For people age 62 or over, the housing program will not check with ICE.

Federal housing authorities should not check with ICE about household members who are not documented and who do not claim to be eligible non-citizens. If a household member is not a citizen or eligible non-citizen, he or she should write this on their application form. As long as they do this, their information will not be checked with ICE. But the household will not be able to get the full amount of housing assistance.

Do not say that you or other household members are citizens or eligible non-citizens if this isn’t the case. This would be fraud, and would probably lead to you losing the housing assistance.  It could also prevent you from getting legal immigration status or becoming a citizen.

See Immigrants and Housing in Finding Housing.

What if I am undocumented? Will a housing program report me to ICE?

A housing program should not report you to ICE (which used to be called INS).

The law says that housing programs can not share information about you with other agencies unless you sign something saying that they can.

You can be undocumented and still get housing assistance paid for by the state of Massachusetts.  Housing programs paid for by the state should not check your immigration status.

For housing programs paid for by the federal government, make sure that you note on your application form that you are not a citizen or "eligible non-citizen." As long as you do this, the housing program will not check your immigration status with ICE (your household also will not get the full amount of housing assistance). 

What if I don't have a Social Security Number?

All housing programs will ask you to give them Social Security Numbers for all members of your household. They will also ask for documents proving they are your Social Security Numbers.

For housing programs paid for by the federal government, the law says that you can get assistance even if you do not have a Social Security Number. You just need to sign a form saying that you do not have a Social Security Number. 

For programs paid for by the state of Massachusetts, the rules are not as clear. If you do not have a Social Security Number, tell the program this and say that you are willing to sign a form swearing to it.

If you have any problems getting housing assistance due to not having a Social Security Number, contact your local Legal Services program.

If I get housing assistance, will it be harder for me to get a green card or other immigration status? 


Getting cash benefits (like welfare) might make it harder for you to get a green card or other immigration status. But this is not true for housing assistance. Getting housing assistance will not have any effect on your immigration status.

See Immigrants and Housing in Finding Housing.

Who to call for help

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