Understanding Waiting Lists

Understanding Preferences and Priorities When Applying for Housing

"I have been on the waiting list for housing for a long time. Someone else I know applied last week and already has on offer of a unit. Is the housing agency discrimination against me?"

"When I applied at one development, they told me I would be near the top of the waiting list. But at another development, they told me I would have a long wait. Why is my status on the waiting list so different at these two developments?"

Housing Authorities and private affordable housing developments provide a preference or a priority for applicants to public or subsidized housing who meet certain criteria such as being homeless. Applicants who qualify for these preferences or priorities receive housing before other applicants on the waiting list.

If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you may be eligible for a priority on the housing waiting list:

  • Are you living in a dilapidated or substandard apartment?
  • Is your apartment or building unsafe?
  • Has your apartment or building been condemned?
  • Are you living in a shelter or on the streets?
  • Are you living in an institution and have been asked to move out?
  • Were you displaced from your apartment by a fire or flood?
  • Were you displaced from your apartment by an action of the owner such as turning the unit into a condominium?
  • Were you displaced from your apartment by domestic violence?
  • Were you displaced from your apartment by a hate crime?
  • Do you have mobility impairment and are living in an inaccessible unit?
  • Are you paying 50% or more of your income towards rent including utilities?
  • Are you a veteran or an immediate family member of a veteran?
  • Are you a local resident?
    Not every Housing Authority or private development provides a preference or priority for all of these situations, but many do. State-funded and federally funded housing programs will have different priorities and preferences. In addition, some Housing Authorities or private developments will place the priorities in difference order of importance. This can make the housing application process very confusing for the applicant.

"How can I make sure I get the right preferences and priorities on a waiting list?"

  • Ask the housing manager what preferences and priorities the development uses. You can ask them for a list of these or for the development's "Tenant Selection Plan" which describes them.
  • Ask the housing manager if there are any special forms to complete to be eligible for preferences and priorities or "emergency housing". There is a separate application which must be completed for state-funded Public Housing.
  • Make sure you get a receipt for your application - either when you deliver your application in person or in the mail. The receipt should indicate which preferences and/or priorities you were given. If you were not given a preference or priority and you believe you should have, you have the right to appeal to the housing provider to receive the correct preference or priority. The receipt should tell you how to file an appeal or you can call your local Independent Living Center for assistance.
  • Notify the housing provider if your housing status worsens. A change in your housing status may make you eligible for a priority. If your housing situation changes after you have filed an application and you think you meet one of the priority categories, ask the provider to review your application for a priority.

"Doesn't having a disability give me a priority for housing?"

No, having a disability does not give you a preference or priority for housing. In order to be eligible for some types of housing, however, an applicant who is a single person must meet the housing program's definition of a person with a disability.
If you have a physical disability and require an accessible unit, you are eligible to be placed on a separate waiting list for accessible units. You may also ask to be placed on the waiting list for nonaccessible units (in addition to the list for accessible units) if you believe you can use the nonaccessible unit with no or "reasonable" accommodations.

If you believe you have been discriminated against in your housing search, you may receive assistance from the following agencies:

Your local Independent Living Center

HUD Office of Fair Housing MCAD
10 Causeway Street, Room 321 One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02222 Boston, MA 02108
(617) 565-5304 (617) 727-3990

TTY (617) 565-5453

The Mass Access Fact Sheets were funded in part by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council