This comprehensive guide will show you how the government’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) can help.
- An Introduction to Section 8 Housing
- Eligibility Requirements for Section 8
- Information and Paperwork You’ll Need to Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher
- How to Apply for a Section 8 Housing Voucher
- The Housing Choice Voucher Program Waiting List
- Section 8 Voucher Value
- Choosing a Section 8 Home
- Roles and Responsibilities Under Section 8
- Keeping Section 8 Benefits When You Move
- Contact the HUD
An Introduction to Section 8 Housing
The U.S. government created its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program to give low-income families a hand in paying for their home.
It has helped lift a million-plus people out of poverty while placing them into neighborhoods that are safer and less poor. By doing so, it can improve the well-being of children and their family members while also reducing the financial burden placed on other public programs.
Vouchers are awarded by local public housing agencies (PHA) depending on a family’s size, household income, and other factors. Once a family has a voucher, they can select the housing of their choice, as long as it meets the program’s standards.
Eligibility Requirements for Section 8
Before jumping into the application process for a Housing Choice Voucher, it’s best to know what the Public Housing Authority looks at when determining Section 8 eligibility. In doing so, you’ll have a better idea of the information you’ll need to provide when applying.
Here are the four significant factors a PHA will use to determine your eligibility for a voucher:
1. The size of your family.
In the government’s eyes, a family doesn’t necessarily mean a large group of people living under one roof. Instead, here are the various arrangements that qualify as a “family” when it comes to Section 8 eligibility:
- Family with or without children – Even if a child is temporarily residing outside of the home and is in foster care, it is still considered part of the family.
- Displaced family – If all family members are no longer living in the home due to destruction from a disaster, extensive damage, or removal by government action, they fall under the displaced category.
- Disabled family – When a family’s head of household or single member has disabilities, two or more people in the home have disabilities, or one person has disabilities and resides with a live-in aide, it falls under the disabled category.
- Elderly family – Where the head of household or single family member, two or more members, or one member residing with a live-in aide is at least 62 years old.
- Remaining member of a tenant family – Where all members of a family receiving voucher assistance have moved out of a home, but one remains.
Single person – Someone who does not fit into any of the above categories.
2. Family income limits.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program was created to help low-income families who need it most. For this reason, income limits make up a considerable part of the PHA’s decision of who to award vouchers to.
Income limits vary by location and the number of family members in a household. They can also change from year to year. The PHA will place a family into three different categories depending on their income:
- Extra low income
- Very low income
- Low income
For the most part, a family cannot earn more than 50 percent of the median income where they plan to live to be eligible for a voucher. The law requires PHAs to award 75 percent of their vouchers to extremely low-income households. This refers to families whose income sits below 30 percent of the poverty line or local median, whichever is higher.
If you’re worried that your income may be too high for Section 8, know that the more members in your family, the more you can make and still qualify.
You can view an example of Section 8 income limits here, where you’ll see how requirements fluctuate as family members grow. The maximum number of family members is eight.
3. Your citizenship status
The citizenship requirement for Section 8 can be a bit confusing. While citizens and certain permanent residents are technically the only ones eligible to receive help, other family members can still benefit from the program.
If a family has a variety of citizenship statuses amongst its members, it can receive prorated voucher assistance. This just means that the amount of money they’ll receive will be based on the number of family members who meet the citizenship eligibility requirements.
4. Your eviction history
If you were evicted from public housing or a Section 8 rental in the past due to drug-related criminal activity, you will have to wait at least three years from the eviction date to be eligible for assistance.
Now that you know which factors your Public Housing Authority will take into consideration, it’s time to begin the Section 8 application process. But before you do, it’s a good idea to know what type of information and documents you’ll be expected to provide.
Information and Paperwork You’ll Need to Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher
There’s no better time than now to start collecting the documents you’ll need to apply for Section 8. You’ll need them for each family member, so they could take some time to gather.
Here are the basics:
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Photo ID from the state or government
- Driver’s license
- Passport (if you are not a United States citizen)
- Immigration documents (for both registered immigrants and aliens)
- Immigrant status verification that’s signed
You’ll also need several documents to help prove that you fall within Section 8’s income limits. These will be harder to come by, but are necessary to complete the application process:
- Proof of income, such as W2 forms, tax returns, and pay stubs
- Bank statements
- Information on assets, if you own any
- Paperwork showing you receive benefits from public assistance
- Social Security benefit verification letter
Without all of these documents, you will have a hard time getting approved. The PHA will use all of the information to see if you are first eligible for a voucher. If so, it will then use the same information to determine the voucher amount so you can pick out the appropriate Section 8 housing.
All of your paperwork and application answers must be authentic and true. The PHA will verify your information via local agencies, your bank, and employer to ensure it is correct.
How to Apply for a Section 8 Housing Voucher
You should try to apply for the Housing Choice Voucher Program as soon as possible since waiting lists can be quite long. Here are the steps to complete the process.
1. Locate your public housing agency.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a website where you can find your local PHA. This is the first step to the Section 8 application process, as you’ll need to contact your PHA to find out more information about voucher requirements specific to your area.
Finding your PHA is as easy as clicking on the state you live in and scrolling down until you find the office nearest you.
2. See if you’re eligible
The application can only proceed if you’re eligible for Section 8 assistance. Your PHA will help determine this by taking your family size and income into account.
As mentioned, the general rule for voucher eligibility is that your family’s income cannot be higher than 50 percent of the median income for your area. In addition, citizenship status and any eviction history will be reviewed before you can continue to apply.
3. Get a Housing Choice Voucher Program application
If you’re good to go in terms of all of the eligibility requirements, it’s now time to get the official application so you can kickstart the process.
Your local PHA can point you in the right direction of where to get an application for free. Depending on where you live, you may get it online, in person at the PHA, or via mail.
5. Complete the application
Take your time completing the application. You want to be as thorough as possible and ensure all the information is correct and truthful.
While the length may vary according to your PHA, expect to fill out basic information on things like date of birth, gross income, mailing address, phone number, criminal history, and more. Remember that these fields must be filled out for each family member, as they will affect your eligibility and the size of your voucher.
Your housing counselor should give you directions on how to fill out the application correctly. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact them first. This application could be your one shot at securing affordable rent in a safe home.
6. Submit the application on time
As stated, the waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher Program can be quite lengthy. As such, you do not want any delays in submitting your application that could stall the process even more.
Use your PHA’s instructions to apply once it’s fully complete. To avoid rejection, make sure it’s submitted by the due date.
7. Be patient
Waiting is an unfortunate but necessary part of the Section 8 application process. Your application could take a few months to process, so sit tight.
After it’s processed, you will either be rejected or accepted and put onto a waiting list.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program Waiting List
Once the PHA deems you eligible for a Section 8 voucher, you’ll have to wait until you actually receive it. Although the thought of waiting even more to receive government rental assistance may be daunting, at least you know you’ve made the cut.
You’ll rarely get a housing voucher immediately after approval. Since the demand for housing assistance is much higher than the supply of vouchers, sitting on the waiting list for an extended period is quite common.
Getting on a waiting list itself is an accomplishment, however, due to several factors. Some PHAs limit applications to specific periods. Others will close their waiting lists if they receive too many requests.
Luckily, you can apply via various PHAs if the one nearest you has a waiting list that is closed or too long. Ask your PHA to give you a list of where you can do this so you can widen your opportunities and shorten the time spent without assistance.
Once your name on the waiting list is reached, your PHA will tell you how to receive your voucher. To accelerate this, be sure to disclose any of the following situations on your application if they apply:
- Your family has been involuntarily displaced by the government or due to disaster.
- You’re currently living in substandard housing.
- You’re paying more than half of your income in rent.
- You’re homeless.
Such situations could gain PHA preference and move you farther up the waiting list, depending on the housing needs and priorities of your community.
Section 8 Voucher Value
A common misconception about Section 8 is that it allows low-income families to live completely rent-free. The truth is, families are required to pay 30 percent of their income or a minimum of $50 towards rent and utilities, whichever is higher, under the program.
The Housing Choice Voucher will cover the rest of the costs. There is a cap or “payment standard” to this coverage, however, that the PHA sets. This standard represents what it costs to rent a local home that’s moderately priced.
Can you choose a home that’s higher than the payment standard for your area? Sure, but you’ll have to pay any extra costs for that luxury.
Once your voucher value is determined, the PHA will pay that amount directly to your landlord every month. You will be responsible for paying the rest of the rent promptly.
Choosing a Section 8 Home
Another misconception about the Section 8 program is that you’ll have to live in a subsidized housing project once accepted. On the contrary, you can choose any housing that qualifies under the program’s requirements, including:
- Single-family homes
Should it qualify, a family can also use their voucher to help pay the rent at their current residence.
To qualify, a home must meet Housing Quality Standards that cover such factors as:
- A working kitchen
- Electricity and light
- Indoor air quality
- Materials and structure
- No use of lead-based paint
- Overall cleanliness
- Sanitary bathrooms
- Security and space
- Smoke detectors
- Temperature control
- Trash disposal
- Water availability
If that list seems lengthy or complicated, don’t worry, as your PHA’s counselor will tell you what to look for so your home qualifies. This information will include the unit size you’re eligible for according to your family size.
You’ll have at least 60 days to use your voucher. Once again, you can use it to pay the rent in your current home or the new home you choose. Regardless of which route you pick, here’s what will have to happen to make your move acceptable:
- The landlord will have to accept Section 8 vouchers.
- Your PHA must confirm that the home meets local Housing Quality Standards.
- Your PHA must confirm that the rent is reasonable compared to similar homes in the area.
After your home is chosen and approved, you will have to sign a minimum 12-month lease with the landlord. A security deposit may be required that cannot be more than one month’s rent. After the contract is complete, your landlord can start a new one or allow you to stay in the home on a month-to-month basis.
Roles and Responsibilities Under Section 8
Here are primary responsibilities that come with being a Section 8 tenant:
- Follow the lease agreement.
- Follow the Housing Choice Voucher Program requirements.
- Pay rent on time.
- Maintain the unit in good condition.
- Notify the PHA if the family has any changes in composition or income.
- Abstain from any criminal activity that includes bribery, fraud, or drug offenses, among others.
You, as a tenant, aren’t the only one with responsibilities once a voucher has been disbursed, as the landlord, Public Housing Authority, and HUD have roles too.
The landlord must ensure that the housing unit meets Housing Quality Standards (HQS) while they receive voucher payments. The home must be safe and clean while being offered at a reasonable rent. Just like the tenant, the landlord must follow the lease agreement. Also, they must conform to the housing assistance payments contract signed with the PHA.
The PHA must supply voucher assistance to the family and make payments to the landlord. It has the right to stop those payments, however, if the landlord does not follow the lease agreement or the payment contract. The PHA will also do the following on an annual basis:
- Review the family’s composition.
- Review the family’s income.
- Inspect the home to ensure it meets HQS.
Lastly, the HUD will transfer funds to the PHA so it can make voucher payments. It pays the PHA a fee for handling the Housing Choice Voucher Program and lets them apply for more vouchers to assist additional families. The department also oversees the PHA to ensure they’re following program guidelines.
Keeping Section 8 Benefits When You Move
Just because you have a voucher for one Section 8 home does not mean you cannot move to another. To do so without seeing a lapse in your assistance, contact your PHA before you make the move.
When moving to a new home, you will first be responsible for ending the existing lease with your landlord. You will also have to ensure that your new residence meets Housing Quality Standards.
Before you can move to an entirely new place, you will be expected to live for at least one year in the original service area of the PHA where you were first approved for a voucher. Again, contact your PHA first to avoid any lapses or, even worse, losses in benefits.
If you would like to become a homeowner after receiving Section 8 assistance, the Homeownership Voucher Program can help. It allows families to use their Section 8 benefits towards mortgage payments.
Rules and even the benefit calculation of the Housing Choice Voucher Program will apply should you make this move. You must also meet such criteria as:
- Being a first-time homeowner.
- No primary family member can own or partially own residential property.
- No family member has either owned or partially owned their own home for at least three years.
Besides those basics, there will be minimum income requirements, as well as any rules set out by your local PHA. You will also have to complete a pre-assistance homeownership program and a course on housing counseling to fully qualify.
Contact the HUD
If you have any questions and want to contact the HUD directly to find out more about public housing assistance for low-income families, call 1-800-955-2232. They are open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.