With everything getting more and more expensive every day, finding affordable housing has become a real challenge. If you look at housing prices in big cities you’ll find that they’re way beyond what most people can comfortably afford. Factoring in the ongoing pandemic and its effect on the economy, it’s no surprise to learn that more than 3.5 million Americans are at the risk of eviction. That’s why individuals and families should really look into government housing assistance. For those who are eligible, government housing assistance can be a real lifesaver.
Not only do these programs help families and individuals find safe sanitary homes, but they also help them avoid borrowing money from private organizations. However, the trick to these programs is to find out which ones you’re eligible for. One solid resource to help you find out about your eligibility is Benefits.gov. The website helps you narrow down the programs you qualify for by asking you a bunch of basic questions.
For this article, we’re focusing on Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), also known as Section 8 housing. We’ll discuss how the program works, how to qualify for it and other tips you should know about it.
What Exactly Is Section 8 Housing?
As its other name suggests, Section 8 housing comes in the form of vouchers. These vouchers are meant to help their recipients afford to rent safe sanitary homes at an affordable price. There are government offices called Public Housing Authorities (PHAs). PHAs are the most reliable source of information on Section 8 housing, as well as most, if not all, other government housing programs. So if you’re looking to learn more about Housing Choice Vouchers, drop by your local PHA and ask away. PHAs will also be the starting point for your application, but we’ll get into that later.
Now, to learn about how these vouchers work. The program is meant for low-income families. This means that if a family doesn’t make much money, this program helps them pay for rent. The general idea is that voucher holders will be required to contribute 30% of their income towards rent, while the voucher covers the rest. Since we’re on the topic of who the vouchers are meant for, let’s take a look at Section 8 eligibility terms.
Am I Eligible For Section 8 Housing?
As we mentioned earlier, your section 8 housing application starts at your local PHA. Every PHA might have different qualification criteria. But, there are general qualifications that any applicant must meet before applying for the program:
- Applicants must be at least 18+ years old.
- This program is meant for US citizens or eligible noncitizens. For non-citizens, the status of residency will be the deciding factor regarding eligibility for the program. Permanent residents should face no issues but temporary and nonofficial residents might face issues with their applications. Families that include both eligible and non-eligible members might receive reduced benefits.
- Having a prior record of drug-related criminal activity is a huge red flag when applying for Section 8. PHAs will mainly focus on the 3 years prior to the application.
- While different PHAs will have different terms, there are certain limits to how many members can be in a family that plans on moving into Section 8 housing.
- To qualify for Section 8 housing, your financial status must be seen as low-income. In this case, low-income means that your income is less than 50% of your local area median. So, let’s say the average income in your city is $40,000, then you must make less than $20,000 to qualify.
How Do I Apply For Section 8 Housing
This program was created by the Department of Housing and Urban Development but is locally operated by Public Housing Authorities. So your application process will mainly start there and any information on the program can be acquired from there. Let’s take a look at the basic steps for applying for Section 8 housing:
- First, you’ll need to contact your local Public Housing Authority. To find your local PHA, visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website, and find the local offices on the map.
- Confirm your eligibility for the program. Qualification terms include what we previously mentioned (Age, financial status, criminal background..etc).
- Since different PHAs will have different eligibility terms, make sure that you meet all of your local PHA’s requirements.
- PHAs will often prioritize special cases, including elderly people, people with disabilities, veterans, and people at risk of homelessness. Local residents also are high on the priority list.
- When you confirm your eligibility, you’ll need to fill in an application with all the necessary information. It’s important to provide accurate and truthful information, to avoid any delays in your application process.
- If the application goes smoothly, applicants will have to wait for a response for the PHA. That response might take a while. The PHA will contact applicants once the result of their application is ready.
- Given that the application is accepted by the PHA, applicants will be placed on a waiting list.
- Just because you got on the waiting list doesn’t mean your work has stopped. At that point, you should start looking for housing that is eligible for the Section 8 program. Options for housing will include housing, townhouses, and apartments.
About That Waiting List..
It’s important to know that wait times for Section 8 housing applications can be pretty long. It’s fair to assume that PHAs will process applications on first-come-first-serve, but that’s not always the case. As we said before, priority is given to special cases such as elderly people (62 years old and above). Other prioritized cases will include disabled people, veterans, and people at risk of homelessness. But here’s what you can do to move up the waiting list:
- Provide documents to show that your current housing situation is not safe or sanitary.
- Show documents to prove that you’re homeless. Such documents can be provided by homeless shelters.
- Provide records to prove that you suffer from domestic abuse.
- Show rent receipts that take up more than 50% of your income.
- Prove that you had to leave your home for reasons that were out of your control. Acceptable reasons for such a case would include presidentially-declared disasters. They will also include situations where the government decided to evacuate a certain area.
What Documents Do I Need To Provide?
We talked a lot about how different PHAs will have different requirements. That means even required documents might differ from one PHA to another. But in a general sense, the following list of documents will be required for your Section 8 housing application:
- Birth certificates for all family members
- Social security cards for all family members
- Driver’s license
- State or alternate government-issued photo ID
- Passports for registered alien/immigrant family members, along with immigration papers
- Signed verification of immigrant status
- Social Security Verification Letter and Proof of Benefits
- Proof of income (receipts, tax returns, W2)
- Bank statements
- Documentation of public assistance benefits
- Information on any owned asset
Here’s Some More Advice To Help You Save Time When Applying For Section 8:
- Keep a record of all communications you have with your PHA regarding your application. In case the government makes any mistakes, that record might help you avoid any delays.
- Make sure to reply to any communication from HUD or your PHA as soon as possible. So, if you receive any messages from them, don’t take much time to reply.
- You can actually apply at several PHAs at the same time. The more waiting lists you’re on, the better.
- Check out social media discussion groups about Section 8. You’ll find thousands if not millions of Americans going through the same process. So, it might be helpful if you find some tips to assist you through the process.
- Always inform your PHA of any changes in your living situation. Changes such as income levels, the number of members in your family, and any disabilities in your family might help push your application forward.
- Public Housing Authority offices are in all 50 states. Also in all US territories. You might have better luck with shorter waiting lists with PHAs in rural areas.
- Section 8 vouchers are transferable. That means if you have the voucher, you can use it for housing in a different state. You just need to make sure to get your PHA’s permission.
- Keep in mind that there’s a pandemic going on. The economy is not doing great. A lot of people are looking for affordable housing. That means waiting times are generally longer than usual right now.
I Got My Voucher. Now What?
If that’s the case, congratulations. You’re one of the lucky ones. But there’s a list of things you must know to keep that housing that you worked so hard to get. First, you should know that any down payments or security deposits on your new place are on you. Section 8 will help you with the monthly rent. Second, there’s a bunch of stuff you know and do to keep that house. Here’s the list:
- You must avoid committing any crimes in or out of your section 8 housing.
- PHA will inspect your new home regularly. The point behind that is to make sure that both the tenant and the landlord are sticking to the regulations created by HUD. PHA also needs to make sure that both parties are sticking to the terms of the rental agreement.
- The person who applied for the Section 8 voucher must live in the house. And only declared family members can live with them.
- You have to pay rent on time. If your landlord reports you for being behind on rent, you might lose your voucher.
- PHA needs to know about any changes in your income level.
- You need to tell PHA about any changes in your family status.
- New roommates can’t just move in without your PHA knowing first.
- Keep your place clean and safe, especially if you have kids. Making your section 8 housing unsafe for kids might jeopardize your housing situation.
Alright, that was a lot of information. So, let’s review everything in a nice little summary.
Starting With What Section 8 Housing Actually Is
Basically, this is a federal program under the administration of the Department of Urban Housing and Development (HUD). The program gives a voucher. That voucher will help you pay for your rent. Under this program, you will pay 30% of your income for your rent. The voucher will pay off the rest. Obviously, this program is amazing for saving money on your rent. But in case you haven’t read everything we mentioned above, there are a lot of requirements to qualify for it.
Who Section 8 Is Meant For
First, you need to be 18 years old or older. Second, HUD created this program for American citizens and eligible immigrants. Your immigration status will strongly impact your application success. HUD also created this program for low-income families. To be seen as low-income, you need to earn less than 50% of your local area’s medium. You need to also remember that PHAs will have different requirements, so you need to check with your local one.
Onto the application process
First, you need to contact your PHA. The PHA will give you all the information you need, and it will also be your application starting point. Your local PHA will also provide you with all necessary eligibility criteria. Those criteria can differ from one PHA to another. So, don’t just take any PHA’s information. Once you confirm your eligibility, you’ll need to provide all necessary documents and information. You need to also make sure you don’t provide any false information, so you don’t have to face any further delays. If your application is approved, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. There are a bunch of things you can do to go up that waiting list.
Finally, you should look into all the requirements to keep in mind to keep your Section 8 housing. Also, refer to HUD’s website and your local PHA for any more information.