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Section 8, also known as the housing choice voucher program, is a federally-funded program that provides housing assistance to eligible families.
This program is meant for low-income families, the elderly and disabled individuals who need financial assistance to afford housing in the private market.
Participants are able to find single-family homes, townhouses or apartments that meet their housing needs. However, applicants should know how to navigate Section 8 listings to be more successful in finding a home. Unlike previous housing assistance programs, tenants are not limited to rental units in subsidized housing projects.
Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are used to manage the voucher program. These funds are distributed to public housing agencies (PHAs) that will verify that rental units meet minimum health and safety standards. Additionally, the PHA handles all applications for housing assistance in a way that best serves their individual communities.
Potential beneficiaries can obtain more resources on how to apply for Section 8 housing assistance and complete their application at their nearest PHA. The Section 8 housing program allows eligible households to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing so they can focus their finances in other areas.
There are certain guidelines established by the federal government that are used to identify who qualifies for Section 8. Generally, there are four factors that a PHA will consider when determining if a candidate is eligible for federal housing aid. The primary factors that are considered for Section 8 eligibility include:
Families must fall within Section 8 income limits in order to be considered eligible for the program. A family’s total household income is usually based on salaries, tips, overtime and other assets. When a public housing agency (PHA) compares a family’s total income, it compares it to the median income for the county or metropolitan area where the family would like to live. Usually, a household’s income must be less than 50 percent of the local median income.
Since the median income will vary from city to city, the Section 8 requirements for income limits will also vary. In 2016, Miami had a medium income of $60,732, whereas New York had a median income of $77,379. Based on these medians, the income limits would be higher in New York than in Miami. Income levels are categorized as:
The HUD requires all local PHAs to review a family’s income eligibility each year. Once a family has been granted aid under the program, its members will not immediately lose their assistance if their income rises past the Section 8 income limit.
However, if their income increases to reach 80 percent of the local median income, they will stop receiving federal assistance. PHAs use a system to verify a tenant’s employment information, unemployment benefits and Social Security compensation to detect underreported incomes and ensure that federal funds are distributed fairly.
When a housing authority processes application for housing assistance, it heavily considers a family’s size and composition. Naturally, the fewer people there are living in a household, the lower the income limit will be. On the other hand, larger families receive access to larger rental units and more federal funding.
Families with children, elderly or disabled members will often be prioritized for housing assistance. Furthermore, Section 8 housing requirements mandate that families be housed in units that have an appropriate number of bedrooms for their household composition.
U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status is required for Section 8 eligibility. Applicants must provide evidence of their status in order to receive a voucher. Each family member in the household must also provide proof of her or his citizenship or legal immigration status in order to be included when calculating Section 8 benefits. Some documents that will be accepted as proof of citizenship or legal immigration include:
Note: Families with a mix of eligible and non-eligible individuals will still be considered for Section 8 housing assistance. The amount of federal aid received will be determined based on the family members who are eligible.
Unfortunately, the need for Section 8 housing is often greater than the available funding. Although a family meets Section 8 eligibility, it may still have to wait over a year to receive housing assistance. Cities with a high demand for subsidized housing usually have waiting lists, and long waiting times are common. Moreover, some public housing agencies (PHAs) designate specific time periods where they will accept new applications for housing assistance.
Each PHA can decide how it prioritizes applications in order to best serve its community. Hopeful tenants can apply at multiple PHAs if their area has a long or closed waiting list. Once a household has been deemed eligible, it will be placed on the Section 8 waiting list.
Public housing agencies (PHAs) prioritize their assistance on a needs-based criterion, and some applicants need their Section 8 housing sooner than others. For many people, housing assistance can be a lifeline. These priority circumstances are established by local PHAs and can differ from city to city. Some examples of priority cases include individuals or families who are:
Tenants can lose their Section 8 eligibility for a variety of reasons. Program members can lose their benefits if they break any of the program’s family obligations. Some of these reasons include providing false information or failing to provide requested information to the PHA. Failing to pay rent or utilities is also a common cause for losing Section 8 benefits. Tenants can also lose their housing choice vouchers for at least three years if they are evicted from public housing for drug-related criminal ac