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Section 8, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is the federal government’s largest program for tenant-based housing assistance.
This program aims to provide financial support for very low-income families, as well as the elderly and the disabled who need help paying for housing in the private market. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides the funds for housing vouchers that beneficiaries use to afford their monthly rent. These housing vouchers are distributed to program members locally through public housing agencies (PHAs).
Generally, the demand for housing assistance is far greater than the amount of funding that the HUD receives. For this reason, applicants for low-income housing can typically expect extended waiting periods. In fact, it is not uncommon for some applicants to spend over a year on the waiting list before receiving assistance. Larger, more populated cities tend to have longer waiting lists that lower-populated areas and applicants are free to request housing assistance from multiple agencies.
Being placed on a waiting list is one of the basic aspects of the Section 8 program applicants should understand prior to applying. Read the sections below to know more about Section 8 wait lists.
After a public housing agency (PHA) receives numerous applications, it begins to establish a housing waiting list. Upon receiving an application, the time and date of the submission is recorded. The agency will then decide to either reject the application due to preliminary eligibility determinations, add the applicant to the Section 8 waiting list or process the application as a priority case. When the average wait time for applications becomes excessive (usually one year or more), the PHA can even choose to close the waiting list and stop receiving applications.
Some waiting lists may be open indefinitely, while others may have an established application period. The handling of waiting lists may vary depending on the PHA. Since potential tenants can apply at multiple housing authorities, there are usually an abundance of applications on the waiting list.
After a potential tenant submits a housing application, the date and time of the request are recorded for the Section 8 waiting list. Once the record has been made, the PHA will perform a preliminary eligibility determination based on the information that an applicant has provided. The agency reviews the application and looks for obvious factors that would make a candidate ineligible. Preliminary eligibility checks allow for ineligible applicants to be rejected without taking up time on the waiting list.
Since the funding for Section 8 housing is limited, PHAs must choose how they want to select applicants from the waiting list. The Housing Choice Voucher Program does not operate on a first-come, first served basis, so local PHAs are responsible for deciding which applications on the Section 8 waiting list receive priority. These local preferences are usually established to best alleviate the housing needs and priorities of a particular community. PHAs may have different criteria on what they consider priority cases. Some common examples of local preferences include applicants who are:
Note: All residency preferences must be approved by the HUD. Housing authority waiting list preferences may not be used to delay or deny admission based on race, color, ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability or age of any member of an applicant’s household.
Due to the volume of applicants, the fairest way that housing authorities can select families for the waiting list is the Section 8 lottery. Again, each PHA operates slightly differently, but most use lotteries to help organize their low-income housing waiting lists. For example, in Miami-Dade County, requests are accepted during an established application period. After the period has ended, applicants are placed in order on a waiting list using a computerized random selection system. Once a household has moved to the top of the waiting list, members will be mailed an appointment letter requesting an eligibility verification interview.
After you understand how to apply for Section 8 and complete your application, you will need to consistently perform a housing waiting list check. Your local housing agency will usually mail you a letter that confirms your waiting list placement. If you have not received a confirmation letter, your application may have been denied. Once you are on the waiting list, the housing authority may tell you approximately when it expects your application to be at the top of the list. Otherwise, you may have to ask about a housing agency’s annual application turnover rate and calculate the wait time based on your position on the Section 8 housing waiting list. For example, if your local housing authority has 400 households on their waiting list and its annual turnover rate is 200 applications, you can estimate that your wait will be around two years.
Keep in contact with all the housing agencies where you have submitted an application. Because housing waiting lists can get long, you may want to contact housing agencies to check your progress every so often. Some of the housing agencies you visit may have different procedures for making contact, so make sure you know the available office hours for each location. As your request gets closer to the top of the list, your housing agency may begin to perform a tenant screening in preparation for your Section 8 interview.
While your application is on the low-income housing waiting list, you may receive notices from the housing agencies asking whether or not you are still interested in waiting. Some agencies will remove your application from the waiting list if you do not respond by the deadline on the notice. Be sure to check your mail regularly when you apply for Section 8 housing and are placed on the waiting list. Furthermore, it is essential that you update your contact information whenever there is a change. If you ever move, be sure to send written notifications of your new address to all the housing agencies where you have applied.