What is the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

“What is Section 8 housing?” is a common question of low-income United States citizens in need of affordable homes. This government-funded housing initiative, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program, is managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, for short. 

Before you learn about the Section 8 application process, it is important to be able to define the Section 8 program clearly. Under Section 8, eligible applicants earn vouchers, that can then be contributed to their monthly rental or mortgage costs. If you are in need of financial assistance surrounding your housing, continue on to the sections outlined below. 

Learn About Section 8 Requirements 

A resident who wants to apply for Section 8 should first review the eligibility requirements, which are enforced by the HUD. Eligibility is determined by the Public Housing Agencies, or PHAs, in your area. You should only plan to obtain a Section 8 housing application if you meet the base income requirements. 

When determining this criterion, your local PHA will review the total annual gross income and your family size, if you are a U.S. citizen. You can also apply for housing assistance if you are a noncitizen, if you have eligible immigration status in the country. When determining eligibility, keep the following in mind: 

  • Your household income may not exceed 50 percent of the median income of your neighborhood
  • The median income level in your area is determined by the PHA, and varies by location
  • You can obtain the income limits for your neighborhood through your local PHA, if you cannot access these figures

If you are still unsure if you should continue on and fill out a Section 8 application online, your PHA can be of assistance. In addition to your income, the PHA can review your family composition, as well as any assets to your household, which will help complete the qualification process. 

How to Apply for Section 8 

For those wondering, “Can you fill out a Section 8 online application free?” the answer depends on where you live. Since applications are accepted by local PHAs, some agencies may process online Section 8 application forms, while others may not. 

For those PHAs that do not allow for Section 8 applications online, you can likely request a printed form, or call your local PHA for by-phone application assistance. 

When you begin the process to apply for Section 8 housing in your home state and neighborhood, you must have certain information readily available to provide. This includes: 

  • Names. You must include the full names of all household members.
  • Dates of birth. You should have access to all of the birthdates for everyone residing in your home.
  • Social Security Numbers. Make sure you have access to all nine digits, for each household member.
  • Medical statuses. You must be able to report if a household member is pregnant, elderly or disabled. 
  • Household relationships. You are required to report your relation to all members residing in your home.

What are Section 8 waiting lists? 

What is a Section 8 housing waiting list? Once the PHA determines your household is, indeed, eligible to obtain a housing voucher, you will be added to your local wait list. If you require immediate assistance, and it is available, you may surpass the wait list. However, in the traditional sense of the wait list, you must wait until your name is reached, and then your PHA will contact you to provide the housing voucher for which you qualify. 

Unfortunately, following the filing of a Section 8 housing application, a wait list is common. Due to the demand for housing assistance funds, the requests often exceed the amount of financial support able to be supplied by the HUD. Thus, long waits are very common. 

There are some exceptions, however, when it comes to a PHA’s control over the wait list. These factors include: 

  • If a family is homeless, and does not have access to safe housing.
  • If a family is contributing more than 50 percent of the household income to rental expenses. 
  • If a family is involuntarily displaced from a household. 

Under these circumstances, those who apply for Section 8 will move to the front of the waiting list, and will receive preferential treatment from the PHA. It is important to keep in mind that each PHA operates differently, though, and that housing preferences and needs can vary from one community to another. 

How does a housing voucher work once I am qualified to receive one?

Once your Section 8 application form is processed and accepted, luckily, your housing choice voucher is put in your own hands. However, you are encouraged to make an educated decision regarding your housing, prior to signing on to a new lease. As you shop for housing, thanks to your successful Section 8 application process, keep in mind: 

  • Your housing selection must meet safety and health codes. 
  • The PHA must inspect – and sign off on – your housing selection.
  • The PHA must determine that the rental payments requested by your landlord are reasonable. 

You can trust in your PHA to determine the fair market value of your home, prior to signing a new lease. 

How to Use Section 8 Vouchers When Relocating 

As an accepted applicant for Section 8, you may be wondering if you can utilize your housing voucher, if you decide to relocate. Yes, you can continue to use your Section 8 voucher, as long as you keep your PHA informed of your move. This means you must terminate your current lease under the conditions, and then find suitable, new housing that is approved by the PHA, once again. Your accepted Section 8 application requires you to reside in one home for at least 12 months, as a new voucher holder. If you choose to relocate outside of your current PHA’s jurisdiction after one year, you must contact the PHA in your new location, in order verify all of the procedures in place before moving.