The federal government recognizes that finding affordable housing may be a challenge for some.
As a result, the government established a federally funded program to assist eligible families in securing affordable, safe and sanitary housing. The Section 8 program makes such housing possible for those with low incomes and those facing homelessness to find a place to call home. The amount of the subsidy varies, but it can be up to 70 percent of the housing costs. Applicants must complete an application, meet eligibility requirements and pass a background check to qualify for the program. Applicants are then placed on a waiting list until additional funds become available. Once selected from the list, applicants may select a housing unit of their choice that meets Section 8 criteria by using a voucher issued by the program. Potential Section 8 applicants can review the sections below for more information on the program and more details on how renters can use the program to find affordable housing.
The Section 8 Program, more commonly known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV) provides housing subsidies for eligible families. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the program and establishes basic federal requirements for eligibility and housing standards. HUD allocates federal funds to local public housing agencies (PHA) who in turn distribute those funds in the form of vouchers to eligible families. The voucher represents the program’s commitment to pay a specified amount of money towards the family’s monthly rent. The amount of the voucher varies based on a variety of factors which include gross household income and family size. Usually, program participants pay no more than 30 percent of the household’s monthly adjusted gross income for housing expenses. The amount may change as income, family circumstances and rental rates change.
The program does not select the housing nor does it limit the family’s choice to low-income housing developments. Recipients can only use the voucher on residences that accept Section 8 payments and meet HUD and PHA standards. Project Based Vouchers (PBVs) are similar to HCVs but have slightly different restrictions. With a PBV, tenants must live in certain designated housing options called projects. With an HCV, however, families may locate and secure suitable housing of their choice so long as the landlord agrees to rent the unit under the rules and guidelines of the voucher program. Should a family choose a unit that exceeds the payment standard must pay the difference between the rental rate and the voucher amount. Recipients can find apartment listings online through PHA sites and local apartment websites. On these websites, voucher recipients can look to see if any local homes meet their needs and accept Section 8 housing assistance.
Not all landlords accept the voucher, and there is no government regulation requiring them to do so. Thus, program participants may need to spend additional time locating a unit where the landlord accepts the voucher and agrees to the terms of the program. Public Housing Authorities inspect the unit before the family moves in, to ensure the unit meets health and safety requirements required by federal and local standards. Landlords must address all concerns uncovered in the inspection before the tenant moves in. Additionally, landlords must maintain those standards for the duration of the lease to continue participation in the program. Tenants pay their portion of the rent to the landlord, and the HCV pays the remaining amount directly to the landlord.
The HCV program requires applicants to meet a set of criteria to qualify for the program. The program aims to assist low-income families, and as such sets income guidelines for applicants. Specifically, the family’s total household income must not exceed 50 percent of the median income within their area of residence. Next, all members of the household must prove their citizenship or eligible immigration status. As such, each member of the household must present a valid social security number (SSN) with the application. Under the guidelines of the HCV program, applicants must pass a criminal background check. PHAs may have additional requirements other than those mandated by HUD, so it is important that applicants review local Section 8 requirements when applying for benefits.
The Public Housing Authorities in each state administer the program. Applicants should contact the PHA in their area to apply. Applicants must bring or provide necessary documentation and information which can include Social Security Numbers of card, proof of citizenship or legal presence, completed consent forms and more. For online applications, the PHA should contact applicants if any documentation is missing or incomplete.
Applicants may also be asked to provide rental references and any other documentation mandated by the local PHA. Due to demand, there is usually a waiting list to receive a voucher. The program encourages applicants to apply early, as long wait times are common. In some areas, the wait time could be up to a year or more. At times, PHA closes the list when there are not enough funds to help additional families. The list is first come first serve, and the public housing authority selects families from the list in order. Some housing authorities utilize a lottery system to choose families from the list at random. The PHA does however set priorities for families in severe need. For instance, those who are homeless, those who are involuntarily displaced and those who pay more than half of their income to rent may move up the list quicker than other applicants. Priority applicants can vary by PHA office.
The HCV does permit families to move across state lines and retain their voucher. Families must notify the PHA before relocating. Further, families must satisfy all obligations of the current lease. Program participants moving to another PHA jurisdiction must consult with the PHA in the new location to ensure continued benefits. Some PHAs may require that residents must participate in the Section 8 program in the area for one year before receiving eligibility to move to another district. PHA requirements may vary, and some will make exceptions to these conditions under certain circumstances.
As tenants, families must pay rent on time, ensure that the unit kept in good condition and respect the rules of the lease. Families receiving Section 8 vouchers they must immediately notify the PHA of all changes to income or family size, as these numbers affect how much assistance they receive. Landlords sign a contract with the PHA indicating they agree to provide safe and sanitary housing for the duration of the lease. The unit must undergo inspection at least once per year to ensure it complies with program guidelines. HUD must provide payments for landlords through local PHAs and implements federal standards to help those in need of affordable and sanitary housing.