If you struggle to get affordable housing, you are not alone. In fact, millions of Americans have this problem as well. According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), affordable housing is defined as being no more than 30% of a person’s income. That being said, almost 39 million American households (both renters and homeowners) are paying more than 30% of their income.
What is Section 8
The government understands that people need assistance when it comes to finding housing that works within their budget. That is why they created the Housing Choice Voucher Program (known as Section 8). This program gives housing vouchers to qualifying recipients. Even though this is a HUD program, it is managed by local public housing authorities (PHAs). These PHAs have their own eligibility requirements based on the area. How much will be on the vouchers varies based on each application and area requirements.
Once an applicant receives vouchers, they will need to find a property that accepts them as a form of payment. Sadly, not every property accepts these vouchers. That is why you will need to set time aside to find a property you like! Once the property you choose passes an inspection by your local PHA, you will be able to sign the lease and move in! Your local PHA will pay a portion of your rent on your behalf directly to the property manager or landlord with the housing vouchers. The difference will be what a tenant is responsible for. For example, let’s say that rent is $1,200. Your local PHA can use your $900 housing voucher towards playing their portion of the rent. You would be responsible for the remaining $300.
Are You Eligible?
Like we said earlier, local PHAs are the ones that specify the criteria requirements for their area. For example, the median family income for Los Angeles, CA is $80,000 according to HUD. However, it is $60,092 for Omaha, NE. That means families will need to meet different income requirements when it comes time to determine eligibility.
Even though it varies by PHA, there are four general categories that they will look at which includes:
- Income Level Requirement
- Family Status Requirement
- Citizenship Status Requirement
- Eviction History Requirement
Income Level Requirement
In order to meet income requirements, a household needs to have an annual income that is below the area’s median income (AMI). For example, in the examples listed above, let’s say you live in Los Angeles where the median income is $80,000. There are three categories of low income which are:
- Low Income: Which is 80% of the area’s median income level (in this example of living in Los Angeles that means you would make $64,000 a year)
- Very Low Income: Which is 50% of the area’s median income level (in this example of living in Los Angeles that means you would make $40,000 a year)
- Extremely Low Income: Which is 30% of the area’s median income level (in this example of living in Los Angeles that means you would make $24,000 a year)
Generally, the lower the income then the higher the prioritization. This program is designed to help those more in need first. Not only is income level an important factor but so is family size. A family of four that has a household income of $50,000 a year would be more in need than an individual with a household income of $50,000 a year.
Family Status Requirement
Families can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. However, PHAs will generally look at specific factors about a family. Some of these factors include but are not limited to:
- Is someone at least over the age of 62 years old?
- Are there children in the household?
- Does someone in the household have a disability?
- Has the household been displaced from their home (displacement can happen for many different reasons like government action, damage caused by a federally recognized disaster, and more.)
- Does the household consist of just an individual?
Citizenship Status Requirement
Only those with a qualifying citizenship status are eligible to receive assistance from this program. American citizens and those with a qualifying immigration status are eligible. A useful tool to use is the HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Guidebook. This can help you better understand whether or not your citizenship status is eligible. However, your best bet will be talking to your local PHA when it comes time to apply.
Eviction History Requirement
Just like getting a normal housing property, your eviction history will be an important factor in determining eligibility. A person will not qualify for Section 8 assistance if they:
- Have been convicted of producing methamphetamines in assisted project housing
- Have been evicted from a property within the past three years due to criminal activity that is drug-related.
Understanding the Application Process
The application process doesn’t need to be as confusing as it may feel. You will want to begin the application process at your local PHA. You can look to see if there is a local PHA around you by checking online. People typically either use a search engine or go to the HUD website and use the PHA locator state map. Now that you know the eligibility requirements, you can learn about the application process! Applications are free and you can handle the process in 4 easy to understand steps:
- 1st Step: Get in Touch with Your Local PHA
- 2nd Step: Fill Out and Submit an Application
- 3rd Step: Wait It Out
- 4th Step: Finalize
Get in Touch with Your Local PHA
After you are able to locate your local PHA, you will want to reach out to them. From there, you can learn about available housing assistance opportunities that may be able to help (like Section 8!). They can answer any questions you may have and provide you information about the program, the application process, etc. They can also let you know what documentation you will need to apply when submitting the application!
Fill Out and Submit an Application
Now that you have gotten in touch with your local PHA, understand the eligibility criteria for your area, and have your documents ready, you can fill out and submit an application. It is important to make sure that you are honest on this application since everything will be fact checked! You will want to be especially cautious when following directions provided by your local PHA. When filling out the application you can expect to provide information like:
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Legal Name
- Household Information
- Citizenship Status
- Financial Information
There are a few things that you can keep in mind when applying like:
Make sure you understand the Housing Choice Voucher program requirements
Take note that all applicants must be at least 18 years old and either a U.S. citizen or a legal noncitizen. It’s also best if you have a clean criminal record. For specific eligibility criteria you will want to confirm with your local PHA.
You can shorten your wait list time about your local PHA’s specific rules and restrictions
Building on the previous point, apart from eligibility requirements, every PHA tries to specifically serve its local community by attending to its individual needs. For this reason, it’s important that you understand that you’ll find a lot of variation between the local PHAs. As a general rule, it should be known that preference is given to senior citizens, the homeless, those who are extremely low income, the disabled and those who live within the area. The more you fit into those different categories, the shorter your wait list time will be.
Make sure you have completed all parts of the application
Ensure that everything in the application is fully filled out and accurate. Any inaccuracy or misleading detail in the application could lead to the application being rejected. You also have to ensure that everything is true!
Follow PHA instructions on how to submit an application
Since every PHA is different in one way or another, it’s important that you ask about the right application submission procedures. If you do not follow these procedures, it is possible that your application may be rejected. You may be able to apply online or with a physical paper application.
Wait it Out
If you are found to be eligible for the program you will likely be placed on a waiting list. Very rarely do people get assistance right away. Once on the waiting list you can expect to be there for months or even years before you receive assistance. You may have priority if you are extremely low income, have an elderly person in your family, have a person with a disability in your family, etc.
Once it’s time for you to use your voucher, you will need to find a property that accepts them as a form of payment. Again, not every property will choose to accept these vouchers. Luckily, the government offers tax incentives to landlords as a way to encourage people to accept them! However, that means your options will be limited. You will want to make sure the residence you’re interested in is in good condition. That’s because your local PHA will be the ones to do an actual inspection to make sure that it is up to their standards. Your local PHA inspects these properties because they want to make sure that the residence is clean, safe, and decent according to their guidelines. If the property does not pass the inspection from your local PHA you will not be able to move in!
Commonly Asked Questions
It can feel stressful learning about Section 8 assistance. That is why plenty of people have had questions when learning about this program that you may have too!
What’s the Best Way to Find Your Local PHA?
There is no “best” way per say, but an easy way is by looking on the HUD website. They list out all of the PHAs and make sure that the information is easy to see and understand. You can also find local PHAs by using an online search engine!
How Much Rent Will You Need to Pay After You Receive Section 8 Vouchers?
Most of the time, tenants will only be responsible for paying up to 30% of their monthly income after they get help from their housing choice voucher. However, in some cases, a tenant may spend up to 40% of their income towards rent. Spending anything past 40% is not allowed by law!
Will Housing Vouchers Cover the Cost of Utilities Too?
Generally only those that qualify for utility reimbursement will be able to have their utilities covered too. Your local PHA will do a calculation to see if you are eligible to receive this assistance opportunity. If you qualify, then you can expect a utility reimbursement check to be paid either to you or to the utility company to handle the cost of utilities. In very rare situations, another opportunity that family may qualify for is a hardship exemption. Hardship exemptions allow families to only be responsible for a minimum rent that’s between $25 to $50.
What’s the Difference Between Project-Based Section 8 and Tenant-Based Section 8?
When reviewing information about the section 8 program, you may come across terms like “project-based” and “tenant-based” assistance. It is important that you understand this difference so that you don’t get your assistance options confused! Tenant-based vouchers are connected to the tenant while project-based vouchers are connected to a specific property. That means tenant-based vouchers have the opportunity to find their property (think of the Housing Choice Voucher Program). On the other hand, project-based vouchers can only live in a particular property (think of public housing units).
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a great opportunity to get affordable housing. This affordable housing opportunity provides vouchers to eligible recipients. People can use these vouchers at properties that accept them as a form of payment. Even though this is a HUD program, it is managed locally by the local PHA. This PHA will be the ones responsible for helping you with the application process, inspecting the property, providing vouchers, etc. Eligibility criteria for this program varies by area! Make sure to get in touch with your local PHA to start the process sooner rather than later. These applications are free and can help you get affordable housing so they are very much worth your time!