It is a challenge for low-income Americans to look for affordable housing by themselves. This is where the federal government can help. One assistance option that is available from the government is housing choice vouchers. These vouchers come from the housing choice voucher program. also known as Section 8. Unfortunately, not everyone can gain from this option. This is why this article will tell you about the program, how it can help you out, and the eligibility requirements you need to meet!
What You Should Know About the Housing Choice Voucher Program
If you want to understand what it means to gain from this option, you need to make sure that you understand what this option can offer. The housing choice voucher program is a federal assistance program that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides, but local public housing authorities (PHAs) are in charge of administering the program. PHAs are the agencies that get federal funds from the HUD to manage the program.
Understanding the Section 8 Program
The housing opportunity aims to offer eligible households safe and decent housing. A great benefit to this program is that the properties are in the private market. This means that they are not limited to only government properties. Some of the different types of housing that individuals can gain include townhouses, single-family homes, and apartments.
It is important to remember that not every property allows these vouchers as a form of payment. Landlords need to accept these vouchers for the property to be eligible for the program. Other than accepting vouchers, they will also need to pass the requirements that the local PHA sets which could include passing a home inspection. Qualifying households that can get vouchers and find an eligible property will then be able to move in. Their local PHA is responsible for paying the landlord directly on behalf of the recipients for the voucher amount. The remaining difference is the family’s responsibility to pay.
Additionally, it is important to remember that every locality is different. This means that the specific guidelines, eligibility requirements, etc. of the program will differ based on the area. Some local PHAs provide the opportunity for eligible households to use the vouchers to purchase affordable homes. Since this is a popular housing option, it is not uncommon for approved applicants to be placed on a waitlist before getting help.
Eligibility Requirements for the Housing Choice Voucher Program
If you struggle with housing costs and need some financial relief, then Section 8 is a good option for you. Again, the specific eligibility requirements will be different based on the location, but you can expect the eligibility requirements to depend on four main conditions. These four conditions include:
- Income Level
- Family Status
- Citizenship Status
- Eviction History
There are income restrictions that the HUD sets in place every year that people are subject to. The income restrictions are calculations that represent a percentage of the area’s median income (AMI) all over the United States. This is why it will be different based on the area you live in. There are three levels of low income:
- Extremely Low Income: This level refers to individuals that earn 30% of the AMI
- Very Low Income: This level describes individuals that earn 50% of the AMI
- Moderately Low Income: This level describes individuals that earn 80% of the AMI
The income restrictions will consider both your location and the number of members in your family. That is because a family of 6 earning $25,000 per year is different from one person earning the same amount. If you are interested in what this would mean for your locality, then you should look through the online query tool that the HUD provides. This tool can help individuals figure out what the income restrictions are for their area.
Family status means applicants need to make sure they meet the HUD’s definition of a family. This means applicants will need to be an individual or a group of individuals that meet any of the following criteria:
- Have kids
- Have at least one household member that has a disability
- Have at least one household member that’s at least the age 62 or older
- Were displaced from their home for an eligible reason
- Lives on their own after other household members that were getting Section 8 moved away
It is important to remember that single individuals still qualify for Section 8. They are not required to have kids to be eligible.
Only individuals that are U.S. citizens or have an eligible immigration status can be eligible for this assistance option. It is important to be truthful and offer all the information required on your Section 8 application. Other than signing a certification form that verifies your citizenship status, you might also need to offer additional documents which can include:
- Resident Alien Cards
- Registration Cards
- Social Security Cards
- United States passport
Fortunately, households that have eligible citizenship status members and non-eligible citizenship status members in their household can qualify. The number of benefits that the program can offer will only depend on the number of eligible family members of the household.
The last thing on the list of important eligibility requirements is eviction history. Recipients will generally need to have positive histories of past rental units. Those that don’t have a good history may be disqualified, which includes applicants that have a history of eviction from a drug-related crime or other criminal interaction. Other than eviction history, your background is essential too. As an example, applicants can be ineligible in the case that they have a conviction of methamphetamines in a subsidized housing project.
Applying for the Housing Choice Voucher Program
If you are interested in applying for this program, you will find that it is easier than you think. The best place to begin is to contact your local PHA. If you are finding it difficult to contact them, then you can also get in touch with a local HUD Field Office for more help. The specific application process will differ based on the area you live in. This means that the specific methods to apply, the documents you need to present, and more will vary in each location.
Once you present your application, you will need to wait for an answer. If the program approves your application, then you will probably be put on a waitlist until it is your time to get help because there is too much demand for housing and not enough supply. However, there may be preferences that the local PHAs set to highlight on households that need the most assistance. We know we sound like a broken record, but each PHA has its own conditions when setting preferences of households–it depends on the specific community’s needs. Preferences could include households that:
- Experiencing homelessness
- Going through substandard housing
- Pay more than 50% of their earnings on rent
- Are involuntarily displaced
How Much Can Households Receive?
There is no specific payment restriction that people will face. Instead, the local PHA will establish a payment standard. The payment standard is the amount generally needed to rent an affordable housing unit in the private housing market. This payment standard is used to measure the number of housing benefits a household will be eligible for. It should be noted that the payment standard will not restrict or influence the rent amount that a landlord charges or that the household pays.
A household has the discretion to select a home that has a rent higher or lower than the payment standard that the local PHA set. By law, if a household selects to move into a new unit that has a rent that is higher than the payment standard, then it must not pay any more than 40% of its adjusted income per month on rent. Fortunately, most people pay 30% because that is what the HUD determines as affordable housing.
Simply put, the voucher amount depends on the local PHA’s calculation of the maximum amount of allowable housing assistance. That maximum amount is typically the lesser of the payment standard subtracted by 30% of the household’s monthly adjusted income (or the gross rent for the housing unit minus 30% of the adjusted income per month).
What is the Role of Everyone Participating?
It is important to remember the roles of everyone involved so you can have a general idea if you are interested in benefiting from this program. You can break it down into four different roles:
- Local PHA
Each of these participants will have their own role when dealing with the program!
Tenant Obligations and Responsibilities
Households are responsible for finding a housing unit that they want to move into but also allows housing vouchers as a form of payment. If the property is eligible, then they will need to sign a lease with the landlord for a one-year minimum. It depends on the property, but the tenant might also need to pay a security deposit.
Once a household moves in, it will be the same as a standard lease setup. That means households must be compliant with the lease–they will also have to oblige with program requirements.
This means making sure that the family pays rent on time, keeping the housing unit in decent conditions, and letting the PHA know about any changes to the family’s current situation. This could include changes in income, changes in household size, and so on.
Landlord Obligations and Responsibilities
Landlords are responsible for offering housing units that meet the requirements of the local PHA. This makes sure that the properties are safe, decent, and affordable. Other than that, they need to offer the units at an affordable rent price and have to make sure they follow the lease agreement that is signed!
Local PHA Obligations and Responsibilities
The local PHA is the agency that is responsible for handling this program on a local level. Once a household chooses a unit, the local PHA needs to make sure that it meets the standards they set. If the home qualifies, then the local PHA will sign a contract with the landlord which discusses details of how the local PHA pays on behalf of the household with the housing voucher. Additionally, the local PHA will also need to recertify the recipients annually and perform a yearly inspection of the unit. This is to make sure that both tenants and the property are still eligible to meet the program’s guidelines.
HUD Obligations and Responsibilities
For the local PHA to offer this program on a local level, the HUD needs to disburse funds to the PHA. The federal funds that local PHAs get are used for the expenses of the program. This includes offering housing vouchers on behalf of the recipient. HUD will also be responsible for paying a fee to the local PHA on administration costs for the program. The HUD is in charge of monitoring local PHAs to make sure that program rules are followed properly.
The Final Verdict
One popular housing assistance program for people who need help is the housing choice voucher program. This option offers housing choice vouchers to eligible households. It is important to remember that not all families are eligible. Other than that, the specific eligibility requirements will differ based on the area. However, there are generally four main requirements that local PHAs will keep in mind. These requirements include:
- Income Level
- Family Status
- Citizenship Status
- Eviction History
If you have any questions or you need more information, then you should contact your local PHA. You can also get in touch with your local PHA when you want to start your application process. If you need more help, then you can contact your local HUD Field Office.