The Section 8 housing program is overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, it is administered on a local level by more than 3,000 Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) throughout the country.
Funding for these programs is distributed from the federal government to the PHAs to help provide housing to low-income families. More than 1.2 million households rely on Section 8 vouchers to help pay the rent, making this a vital program for working class Americans.
The HUD has some basic Section 8 requirements, such as mandating income limits for all applicants and housing authorities. These requirements are national, which means all Section 8 applicants must at least meet those requirements.
Additionally, some states like New York have statewide programs to provide information for Section 8 applicants. However, individual public housing authorities (PHAs) typically set the final requirements for who is and is not eligible. Therefore, to find out if you qualify for Section 8, you should reach out to your local PHA and determine what the eligibility requirements are. The sections below describe where you can find information, common eligibility requirements and how to contact your local PHA.
Section 8 Requirements Set by HUD
The Section 8 program grants low-income families and individuals a voucher to cover a portion of their monthly rental expenses. Applicants who receive a voucher must find a moderately priced rental to accept the voucher and receive benefits.
Participating members then pay up to 30 percent of their monthly income towards rent, while HUD funding covers the difference. The exact payment required will vary from person to person. This program enables low-income families to stay in certain housing units even if they cannot afford the cost of rent themselves.
HUD has minimum requirements in place to qualify for a Section 8 voucher. Not everyone is eligible, and low income alone is not enough to qualify. Applicants must be one of the following:
- Person with a disability
- Elderly person
- Member of low-income family with children
Additionally, the HUD has income limits in place. To qualify as a low-income applicant, your income cannot be more than 80 percent of the median income for the county in which you live. To qualify as a an applicant with very low income, it cannot be more than 50 percent of the median income. Although HUD has income limits for Section 8 housing, individual PHAs set the final income requirements.
Section 8 at the State Level
Many states and districts have public housing programs that operate concurrently with Section 8. For example, the District of Columbia operates a Local Rent Subsidy Program. This program works similarly to Section 8, but voucher holders must stay within a certain area to maintain benefits. You can visit your state’s affordable public housing website to learn what programs are available to help you.
Section 8 programs and the aid available varies by state. Some states, like Wisconsin, have no state-based housing programs, instead leaving public housing issues to individual counties and cities. Others, like New York, maintain rigorous programs that accompany Section 8 to alleviate public demand for affordable housing.
State websites will typically contain Section 8 housing information, but not applications or waiting lists. To apply for public housing or determine if the waiting list is open, you should visit your local PHA website.
How PHAs Administer Section 8
Local PHAs determine how many Section 8 applications they can fill based on the funding available. Most funding will come from the HUD, but some individual states like New York provide additional funding.
Low-income individuals interested in Section 8 housing should apply directly to a PHA. Typically, demand for affordable housing significantly exceeds supply, which means PHAs often have long Section 8 waiting lists. In some particularly dense counties, the waiting list may be closed for several years as the PHA processes applications.
For example, West Palm Beach’s housing choice voucher program waiting list was last opened for two weeks in September 2011. In that time, it received almost 19,000 applications for 5,000 spots. The West Palm Beach PHA is still processing applications submitted in 2011.
Because Section 8 waiting lists are long, it is important to update your information on a regular basis. If there is a change in income or household, you should contact the PHA to update your application. If your income falls significantly, you may receive greater priority on the waiting list.
Along with waiting for a Section 8 opening, you should also consider the rental inventory available. The program’s requirements state that you must search for moderately priced housing based on the county you live in.
One of the goals of the Section 8 program is to help families relocate to areas with less poverty, where they may find greater opportunity. However, Section 8 recipients often return to very low-income neighborhoods to find housing rather than moving to richer neighborhoods. This is because not all landlords will accept a housing choice voucher.
Many people who receive a Section 8 voucher ultimately give it up when they fail to find housing that accepts the voucher. Some counties have more inventory than others. If you are considering submitting a Section 8 application, you should consider the likelihood of obtaining suitable housing.