Learn About Section 8 Housing Allocation

Being on a Section 8 waiting list can be a long process. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to receive your voucher, even if you qualify.

Due to very high demand combined with limited voucher availability, eligible applicants must be put on a list until a voucher becomes available. For full admission into the housing voucher program, local public housing agencies (PHAs) create their own preference list. Based on the needs of that specific community, PHAs may decide to use a specific priorities list to determine the allocation of vouchers.  By law, PHAs must first open the section 8 waiting list to very low-income applicants. However, when it comes to preferences, PHAs may choose to prioritize homeless applicants or those facing imminent danger. PHAs may almost place a limit on how many applicants qualify for priority listing. As long as they continuously follow the same criteria, the HUD allows each local agency to use their discretion. For an overview of the Section 8 voucher allocation system, review the sections below. 

About Income

In some cities, Section 8 listings for homes first open up to applicants who meet certain eligibility requirements, the most important of which deals with income limits. There are three main categories of income in the housing assistance program:

  • Low income.
  • Very low income.
  • Extremely low income.

While applicants must fit in one of the categories within the Section 8 income limits to qualify for the program, getting first priority on the Section 8 waiting list involves more stringent requirements. According to HUD regulations, local housing assistance agencies must devote a large percentage of their vouchers to applicants who are extremely low income. This means applicants must have an income that does not exceed 30 percent of the median income in that region. Moreover, if a family is using more than half of its income on rent, then it may qualify for a preferential position on the waiting list. Once those applicants receive vouchers, agents will consider other applicants using a priority method. 

Note:Section 8 waiting list preferences are cumulative. This means if an applicant meets more than one preference on the agency’s list, she or he must have a higher preference overall. Once you meet one preference requirement, it does not disqualify you for another.

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About Elderly and Disabled Individuals

When it comes to individuals with a disability, Section 8 public housing agencies (PHAs) in certain states give those families priority access to Section 8 vouchers. The HUD defines a disability as an impairment that prevents an individual from participating in gainful activities for an extended period of time including:

  • Self-care.
  • Learning.
  • Mobility.
  • Financial independence.

As individuals with disabilities often require help and special accommodations, a family with a disabled member may be placed on the Section 8 priority list. It is important to note that agents may not create a preference for applicants with a specific type of disability, excluding controlling documents that allow it. Moreover, the HUD’s definition of a disability does not include individuals whose disability is caused by dependence on drugs or alcohol. 

The Threat of Danger

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is one of several Section 8 housing assistance agencies that provides emergency section 8 housing for domestic violence victims. This includes applicants who are currently living in a home where domestic violence occurs or have moved out due to the violence. Many PHAs also extend preferences for victims of sexual assault and stalking. In some cases, applicants will need to prove they are facing a abusive situation. Medical records, police reports, letters from a counselor can all serve as acceptable documentation. 

Learn About Unit-Based Preference

There are some cases where an agency may prioritize an eligible family who matches the criteria for an available unit on the Section 8 waiting list. Factors like the characteristics of the family compared to the distribution of the available housing units play a role in their position on the list. If a housing unit has accessibility features to accommodate disabled tenants, for instance, the PHA may first consider families with disabled members. Moreover, HUD regulations do not allow single persons to choose a house or apartment with two or more bedrooms. Therefore, PHAs must consider the best fitting families for the available units. 

Learn About Special Circumstances

There are various HUD waiting list preferences available. It all comes down to the PHA in the region. For example, the housing authority in Beaumont, Texas gives housing preference to active service members and veterans who were honorably discharged. Some PHAs create HUD waiting list preferences for families with an elderly member. The HUD defines elderly as someone who is 62 years of age or older. If the family head, sole member or spouse is elderly, the family may be given preference. Additional Section 8 preferences include:

  • Good standing — In housing agencies like Boston, applicants who have been in good standing for one year or more while using a project-based voucher can receive priority points to move them up the list. 
  • Residency — A local agency may create a preference for applicants who live in a specific geographic location. However, they must comply with requirements to ensure equal opportunity and prevent discriminatory actions. A residency preference can be as specific as a county or municipality. A preference that is any smaller constitutes a violation of HUD’s Section 8 waiting list regulations. 
  • Homelessness — Some housing authorities grant priority status to applicants who are currently displaced, at risk of an eviction through no fault of their own or facing a housing emergency. 

Generally, preference placement on the Section 8 waiting list does not require a separate application, as PHAs determine preference during the regular application process. However, if your circumstances have changed and you fit the PHA’s preference criteria, you may contact them to submit supporting evidence.