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Massachusetts spending housing aid, likely to receive more

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Chris Lisinski/SHNS

The federal government is revving up to redistribute some unspent rental aid it steered to states during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Massachusetts hopes to be near the top of the list to receive an extra boost.

U.S. Treasury officials expect to distribute reclaimed funding roughly every two months to states and other emergency rental assistance program, or ERAP, recipients who cleared a target built into the relief legislation, according to guidance published Monday.

Under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, states and other recipients had to spend or obligate at least 65 percent of the first batch of federal rental aid dollars by Sept. 30. The Treasury could take back some unused funding from states that fail to meet that goal and instead steer it to those who succeeded, part of an effort to ensure money is getting out the door. Once the recapture and reallocation process begins, Massachusetts could see its pockets swell.

The Baker administration announced Friday that it had spent or obligated more than 65 percent of the $436.5 million first batch of federal rental assistance, in the process qualifying the Bay State to apply for additional funding rather than return an unspent portion. Officials said the administration notified the U.S. Treasury that Massachusetts is now eligible to receive reallocated money from other states.

“The Emergency Rental Assistance funding has been a crucial resource to our Eviction Diversion Initiative in helping to protect renters from evictions or homelessness, and landlords from foreclosure,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said in a statement. “Through our request today, we are asking to extend our partnership with the US Treasury and ensure we can continue protecting vulnerable Massachusetts families through our rental assistance program without disruption.”

The administration has accelerated the pace of rental aid distribution in recent months after housing advocates and lawmakers previously lodged criticism that the dollars were flowing too slowly. Some activists have pushed for additional action from the Legislature to streamline the process and pause evictions and foreclosures, but legislative leaders have not indicated any interest in tackling the issue.

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