Head’s up — MassLegalHelp is getting a new look!

At the beginning of March, we will be relaunching this website with a brand-new look. You may notice some things moved around, but our main content will stay the same. We hope the improved design will make it easier to find what you are looking for.


Getting a Decision

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2009

What happens after I submit the completed application?

After you submit your application, a housing authority or subsidized landlord will determine whether you are eligible. See Who Is Eligible. Because there are fewer affordable units than people who need them, you will likely be placed on many waiting lists. See How Waiting Lists Work. Some housing authorities will place you on a waiting list and wait until you come to the top of the list to check certain information, such as credit reports, criminal record information, and landlord references, to determine if you are likely to be a good tenant. For more information, see Who Is Eligible and Tenant Screening. Other housing authorities will screen applicants right away, before they go onto a waiting list.

What should I do if I move before I get to the top of a list?

Because you can be on waiting lists for a long time, if your address changes it is important to tell this to each housing authority or owner where you have applied. You can do this by writing a short letter. It is always best to make contact in writing so you have a record of your communication. Keep copies of these letters so that you can prove they knew about your change of address.

If you do not do this and the housing authority or owner cannot reach you through your old address, you will be taken off the waiting list.25 If, however, you could not contact them because of a disability (for example, you were hospitalized), you can ask that they put you back on the waiting list as a reasonable accommodation of your disability.26

What should I do if I do not hear back after I submit my application?

If your application has not been acted on within a reasonable time, contact the place where you applied and ask them for a decision. They must give you a written decision within a reasonable time.

What can I do if my application is denied?

If your application is denied, you have a right to challenge, or appeal, this decision.27 A housing authority, nonprofit regional agency, or subsidized landlord must tell you in writing that your application has been denied and why. They may tell you that your application has been denied because you failed to document certain information. Or they may tell you other reasons. You need to know exactly why they denied you housing assistance. Because they thought you were not eligible? Or because you did not have the right paperwork? Knowing this information will help you challenge any decision denying you assistance. See Challenging a Denial of Housing.

What should I do if I do not like the apartment I am offered?

For federal public housing, you must accept an apartment offered to you unless you have good cause to reject it. If you do not accept an apartment offered, you could be moved to the bottom of the waiting list or removed from the waiting list altogether.28

For state public housing, you must accept an apartment offered within seven days, or risk being removed from the waiting list. You do not have to accept this offer if you have documentation to show that the apartment is either inappropriate or would cause an unreasonable hardship.29

Can I get help if I need money for moving expenses or security deposits?

While there are a couple of resources which may be able to assist you with the costs of moving, including the expense of moving your belongings, security deposit, and first and last month's rent, they are usually very limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Regional nonprofit housing agencies are in charge of a program called RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), which has a limited amount of money for these expenses. See the Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts to find the regional nonprofit agency in your area.

In some instances, the federal government has money for such expenses through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). See a listing of local FEMA offices on the FEMA website. Often, CAP agencies will have information about FEMA grants. You can find a list of CAP agencies on the MassCAP website.

If you are currently housed in an emergency shelter, you may be eligible for relocation benefits.

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless has a furniture bank to assist you when you move into a new apartment. You must have a referral from a program first. For more information, see the Frequently Asked Questions About Furniture Assistance on their website. You may be able to get a low-cost mover through an organization called Solutions at Work. See Moving Up on the Solutions at Work website.

Finally, there are often local resources that will provide different kinds of assistance. Contact your local Salvation Army, United Way, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities, or other religious organization.


25 24 C.F.R. § 982.204(c)(1).

26 24 C.F.R. § 982.204(c)(2).

27 State public housing programs: 760 C.M.R. §§ 5.05(2) and (3), and 5.13; Federal public housing: 24 C.F.R. § 960.208(a Section 8 vouchers: 24 C.F.R. § 982.201(f Federal multifamily housing: HUD Multifamily Occupancy Handbook 4350.3 REV-1, CHG-3 (June 2009), Chapter 4.

28 HUD Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook (June 2003), § 3.8.

29 760 C.M.R. § 5.10(4)(a).

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Find an apartment

Use the Housing Navigator to find an apartment.

Download the Chapter

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am - 12pm and 1pm - 4pm