The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a great opportunity for people to receive housing assistance. This assistance can provide eligible recipients with affordable housing. Also known as Section 8, this federal program gives housing vouchers to those that qualify. These housing vouchers help people access housing that is decent, clean, and safe.
Understanding Section 8
While section 8 is a federal program, it is managed locally by public housing authorities (PHAs). These PHAs are the ones that get federal funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These funds are what are used by PHAs to manage the housing choice voucher program.
When a recipient receives these vouchers, they will be able to choose their housing unit. This means recipients are not limited to just public housing units! They can choose any property that accepts these vouchers as a form of payment and meet local PHA guidelines. On the receiving family’s behalf, their local PHA will pay the landlord or property manager directly. Any difference leftover is what the family will be responsible for paying. Sometimes a family may not even be limited to rentals. Under special conditions, a family may have the opportunity to use the vouchers towards the cost of buying a modest home.
Understanding Eligibility Criteria for Section 8
Eligibility criteria for this program varies based on the area. However, you can basically break down the qualifying requirements into four parts:
- Family Status Requirement
- Citizenship Status Requirement
- Income Level Requirement
- Eviction History
Family Status Requirement
One important part of the assessment process is family status. The guidelines are written by the HUD, but your local PHA will have their own specific requirements. There is some criteria that most local PHAs consider like:
- Is anyone in the household disabled?
- Has anyone in the household been displaced from his/her home due to a government decision, such as an evacuation because of a natural disaster or safety hazard?
- Is anyone a senior citizen?
It’s important to note as well that if a tenant who is already receiving Section 8 assistance leaves the property, but lets a family member stay in the property, then the vouchers can still be used for that remaining member. According to their rules, he/she is part of the same household that was getting the Section 8 vouchers.
Citizenship Status Requirement
It is important to note that anybody who is not a U.S. citizen or a legal immigrant in the United States will not be eligible for Section 8 assistance. As a reference, you can use the HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Guidebook (accessible on the HUD website at www.hud.gov) to determine your immigration status to see if you qualify for the vouchers. Make sure you have relevant immigration documentation handy.
Income Level Requirement
In other words, show me the money! Instead, this is not about how much money you have, it’s actually about how little you have. Based on your income, you fall into one of three distinct categories that are used to determine whether or not you qualify for Section 8 Assistance which are:
- Low Income
- Very Low Income
- Extremely Low Income
The details of each category are pretty easy to understand. The extremely low income class of applicants are prioritized when it comes to getting vouchers, but it’s important for you to learn about a key principle. When you are categorized, those who are involved in the assessment will consider how your income is able to sustain a family that is a certain size. A very small family that makes $15,000 dollars per year falls into the “extremely low-income” category, but a family of eight can also make it into the same category, even if they make $30,000.
If you’ve been a troublemaker, then you’re definitely in trouble here. To qualify for Section 8 assistance, you must not have been evicted for dealing with illegal narcotics or for being involved in the production of methamphetamines on the grounds of a low-income project’s property. If you have these on your record, then you may face your application being denied.
For more information on any of the eligibility criteria above, you will want to get in touch with your local PHA.
How to Handle the Application Process
Now that you’ve read the eligibility requirements, it’s time to start the application process. It’s not complicated, but the thing is it could take a long time. Which is all the more reason you should start immediately, and we are going to walk you through the entire process. The best part about these applications is that they are free! So even though they could take while, it is definitely worth the time and effort to at least apply. You can break the application process down into 5 steps:
- 1st Step: Do Your Research
- 2nd Step: Make Contact with Your Local PHA
- 3rd Step: Complete a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Application
- 4th Step: Play the Waiting Game
- 5th Step: Inspect Before You Accept
Do Your Research
Getting the right Section 8 property is going to take a little investigative work. So, put on your detective hat! The first thing you need to do is find your local PHA. If you simply visit the HUD website, you will find a useful directory and search tool for all the local PHAs in the country. This makes it easier for you to find one that is close to your area. All the essential contact details are mentioned, and you can conduct the search based on zip code, city, or state. This will give you the information you need to get started.
Make Contact with Your Local PHA
Get in touch with your local PHA and learn about any specific eligibility criteria that they might have for a particular area. Ask the person helping with your application about what papers need to be prepared and what provisions need to be made so that the application process is done successfully. This is a critical step because your local PHA will really help you understand your situation a bit better.
Complete a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Application
Now that you are ready with all the details and requirements, you can apply to the Section 8 assistance program. You may be able to apply online or with a paper application. The options you have vary based on the PHA. As with most benefit applications, it will ask for personal information. Personal information can include details like:
- Social Security Number
- Date of Birth
- Financial Information
- Household Information
- Citizenship Status
It’s important to make sure you answer as truthfully as possible because all of your answers will be checked and verified. Once you have completed the application, make sure that you follow the instructions provided by your local PHA as to how and when the application is to be submitted. Make sure to keep in mind any deadlines!
Play the Waiting Game
You will likely be placed on the waiting list (if you are approved), but how can you get prioritized? Prioritization in these programs is based on need. They aim to help those who are most in need find homes quicker. If you are disabled, have children, or have any type of immediate need, it is important to communicate that in your application. This can help you get priority.
Inspect Before You Accept
Once you find a property, it’s important you personally go to make sure this is where you want to live. This includes making sure that the property is up to the standard that you feel is safe for your family. Make sure to do a complete inspection! This property will also need to pass safety criteria set by the local PHA. If the local PHA does not deem the property livable (even if you do) then you will not be able to use the vouchers at that property.
Commonly Asked Questions About Section 8
Understanding the section 8 program can be hard at times and even a little confusing. There may be questions that others have had, that you have too.
What are Tenant Responsibilities for the Section 8 Program?
The family will need to select a residence that their local PHA approves. The family must sign a one year lease with the landlord or property manager (whoever accepts the paychecks!). Some properties may require that the tenant pays a security deposit as well. The family that moves into the property must follow lease and program requirements. This can include:
- Paying rent on time
- Keeping the residence in good condition
- Notifying their local PHA if there are any changes in eligibility like income, family size, etc.
What’s the Difference Between Section 8 and the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
Nothing! You can use these terms interchangeably. That means you can either use “Section 8” or the “Housing Choice Voucher Program”. However, Section 8 is generally quicker to say!
Are There Regulations for this Program?
Yes, there are. You can find detailed information about these regulations online. Through the HUD website, regulations can be found in 24 CFR Part 982.
Do Landlords Benefit from Accepting Housing Vouchers?
Unlike public housing, properties that accept housing choice vouchers can be privately-owned. This means that landlords (or property management companies) have to choose to accept these vouchers as a form of payment. As a way to encourage these landlords to accept housing vouchers, local governments will offer tax incentives. However, there can be other incentive opportunities as well (depending on the area)!
How Much is a Section 8 Voucher?
A majority of tenants will pay 30% of their total monthly income after they receive assistance from their housing choice voucher. For example, if rent and utilities cost $1,000, a tenant will be responsible for $300 while their local PHA will be responsible for $700 (if that’s the amount that their voucher is worth).
The actual voucher amount will vary by person because it takes into consideration factors like family size and income level. There are certain circumstances where a tenant can find themselves paying for 40% of the rent. Luckily, by law it is illegal for tenants using housing choice vouchers to pay more than that.
Can Housing Choice Vouchers Pay for Utilities?
If you do not qualify for a utility reimbursement then housing choice vouchers will likely not pay for your utilities. However, your local PHA will do a calculation to see if you are eligible for utility reimbursement. If you are eligible, then a utility reimbursement check will be sent to you or to your utility company every month. This check will reimburse for the cost of utilities. In especially rare situations, a family may be eligible for a hardship exemption. This exemption will allow families to only be responsible for paying a minimum rent that is generally no more than $50 a month.
How Can You Check the Status of Your Section 8 Housing Choice Application?
In most cases, you will need to wait until you receive a confirmation that your application is being processed. Every PHA is different but generally they advise applicants not to contact the office for application status updates. You will likely find yourself having to wait for updates with no way to accurately check the status.
Can You Transfer Your Vouchers?
Luckily, housing choice vouchers are transferable. This means that you can transfer your voucher to a different area as long as you meet other other conditions. “Portability” is the term that describes the process of this transfer. When you get in touch with your local PHA you can get more information about portability from them!
Many Americans struggle to get affordable housing. It can be hard to keep up with bills, especially for those dealing with financial hardship. Luckily, there is a way that people can get support in handling expensive bills like rent, and utilities. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) can help people get affordable housing through vouchers. Eligibility for this program varies but generally includes requirements around these four parts:
- Family Status Requirement
- Citizenship Status Requirement
- Income Level Requirement
- Eviction History
While this article talked about some parts of the program, you can get more information at your local PHA. From there, you can begin the application process (for free)!