7 Tips You Need to Know About Section 8 Housing Assistance

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, better known as Section 8, helps low-income families secure safe and suitable housing. In this program, you can receive a housing voucher that pays a portion of your rent at an acceptable rental property. There are income and family-size qualifications you must meet to be eligible, and the wait time to receive this form of housing assistance can be long.

However, this program provides much-needed financial assistance to many families across the country. Follow these steps to apply for the Section 8 housing voucher program and get the financial assistance you need as soon as possible.

Find a Local Public Housing Authority
Find a Local Public Housing Authority

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the national funding and management of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, local public housing authorities (PHAs) manage the Section 8 voucher programs in their area. These agencies process applications, distribute vouchers and help families find Section 8 housing.

Your first step should be to find you local PHA through HUD or your state’s or city’s housing department. HUD has a website dedicated to searching for local PHAs with your state, city and zip code. There, you can find the phone number, email and physical address of the PHAs in your area.

Check the Qualifications for Section 8 in Your Area
Check the Qualifications for Section 8 in Your Area

The PHA will determine your eligibility for Section 8 by reviewing the following information:

Your family size: The more people in your family, the more money you need to pay for basic necessities, including adequate housing. A PHA will compare your family size to your household income to determine if you fit into the income limitations for the program.

Your household income: You’ll have to report how much money your family brings in every month. The PHA will compare that to the median income in the area in which you’re applying. Typically, you must make 50% or less than the median income in the area to qualify. As described in the above point, how many people in your family will also influence how your income is viewed.

Your citizenship status: You must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigrant status. Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants are not able to receive Section 8 housing assistance.

Your eviction history: A PHA will check if you’ve been evicted from public housing or other Section 8 properties for criminal drug activity, which makes you ineligible for this assistance for at least three years from the eviction date.

You can find more information about Section 8 eligibility requirements and determine if you’re eligible for the program by contacting the PHAs you’re planning to apply to.

Apply for a Section 8 Housing Voucher
Apply for a Section 8 Housing Voucher

Once you know that you’re eligible to participate in this housing assistance program, you can complete the Section 8 application. Get an application for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program from your local PHA. You may be able to find and fill out the application online, or you may be required to fill out a physical application and mail it in or submit it in person at your local PHA.

On this application, you will need to include the following information:

  •   Your name, date of birth and contact information.
  •   Your Social Security number.
  •   The names and dates of birth of the other members of your family in the household.
  •   The gross income of those working in the household.
  •   Your housing and rental history, including evictions and former addresses.
  •   Any criminal history.

You may also be asked to supply any applicable military history, which may qualify you for Section 8 for veterans.

Make sure all of the information you include on the application is accurate to ensure it’s processed as efficiently as possible. Be sure to complete and turn in the application before any applicable due dates, too.

Wait to Receive a Voucher
Wait to Receive a Voucher

After submitting your Section 8 application, you may wait a few months for your application to be processed by a single PHA. Once the application is processed, you will likely be placed on a waiting list. This waiting list is often incredibly long due to lack of funding and availability and a multitude of qualified applicants in need.

You could be on the waitlist for up to one or two years before receiving your voucher. Your PHA may use the following criteria to choose families on the waiting list:

  •   Homelessness.
  •   Living in substandard or dangerous housing.
  •   Paying rent totaling more than 50% of the family’s income.
  •   Involuntary displacement.

That means families may move ahead of others, regardless of when they applied for Section 8, if they meet any of these criteria that show an increased need for immediate housing. However, it’s rare to get immediate housing from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and most families will spend a good deal of time on the list before being chosen.

Receive Your Section 8 Voucher
Receive Your Section 8 Voucher

Once you are selected from the waiting list, you will receive your housing voucher. The amount of the housing voucher is based on paying 30% of household income or at least $50 for rent and utilities, whichever is higher.

Your PHA will determine this amount based on cost of living in your area and your household income. The maximum voucher amount is typically 30% of a family’s household adjusted income minus the payment standard, or cap of how much the voucher covers. Or, the voucher could value 30% of monthly adjusted income minus the rent payment, whichever is less. Note that you must pay at least 30% but no more than 40% of your monthly household adjusted gross income. The Section 8 housing voucher will cover the rest.

Look for Section 8 Housing
Look for Section 8 Housing

When you receive your voucher, you can start to look for Section 8 rentals and apartments for rent that accept housing vouchers. in your area. Your PHA should have a list of landlords and property management companies that accept Section 8. You can also conduct an online search for Section 8 apartments or Section 8 houses for rent, or you can use the PHA’s resources to find vacant units.

Unlike some other government-run housing assistance programs, you can actually choose any affordable housing to use your Section 8 housing voucher. In fact, you could apply the Section 8 voucher to your current home or another single-family home, townhouse or apartment that meets the program’s requirements.

Keep Your Section 8 Housing
Keep Your Section 8 Housing

Once you find a unit, you may need to have it inspected by the PHA or a third party to make sure it meets the housing feasibility requirements of the Section 8 program. Then, you must sign a lease for at least one year, and you may have to pay the security deposit for the unit. Your PHA will pay its portion of your rent to the landlord or property management directly, and you will pay your portion to the landlord or property manager, too.

While living in the unit, you must abide by the lease terms, including keeping the rental in good working condition and paying rent on time. You must also update the PHA with any changes to household income, such as an increase or decrease, as well as to the number of family members in the household, such as a family member moving out or another one being added.

Lastly, no family member can participate in drug-related, fraudulent or violent criminal activity of any kind. Doing so could terminate your current Section 8 housing assistance and you’re your family ineligible for this and other assistance for many years. Criminal activity is a common stipulation in a lease and is a requirement for the Section 8 program.

It’s important to note that some states, cities and PHAs allow recipients to use housing vouchers to help pay the mortgage on their home. If you want to use this housing assistance to keep your current home, find a PHA that participates in HUD’s Homeownership Voucher Program, which works a lot like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. You can find more information about this PHA homeownership program on HUD’s website, on your state housing department’s website or through your local PHA.