At one time or another, you’ve probably heard of Section 8. Officially known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 housing is a government initiative that helps low-income families and individuals move into rental units normally would not be able to afford.
The program accomplishes its goal by issuing housing “vouchers” that help pay a portion of a unit’s rent. Typically, a Section 8 voucher holder will pay about 30% of their overall income in rent each month. The federal government then pays the landlord the remaining amount of rent each month through a local public housing agency (PHA).
Read on to learn about the history of the Section 8 program, who qualifies for housing vouchers, how the application process works and what happens after a family has been approved for housing vouchers.
How Did Section 8 Start?
Section 8 gets its name from Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937. This act was first passed as part of the Roosevelt Administration’s “New Deal” response to the Great Depression and helped low-income families live in homes with better conditions.
By 1974, the problem had shifted — it wasn’t that low-income people only had access to substandard housing, but that rent prices were just too high. The Housing and Community Development Act was passed, which amended the 1937 Housing Act to establish the Section 8 program.
Section 8’s official name is the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This title pretty clearly reflects what the program is: it gives people some choice as to their housing, and provides them with vouchers in order to participate in the program.
One important detail to recognize about Section 8 is that it is not administered by the federal government but by local housing authorities also known as “public housing agencies.” Therefore, anyone looking for Section 8 apartments in a certain area will be working with that area’s local public housing agency (PHA).
Today, around 5 million Americans receive financial aid through the Section 8 program.
Income Requirements for Section 8
Since Section 8 is aimed at helping low-income individuals and families, income level is the most important factor in whether or not a person or family will be approved.
There is no nationwide income requirement, which makes sense: A certain salary might be enough to pay rent in one state, city or county, but would not be enough in another.
While this sounds complicated, it is actually quite easy to understand — the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a tool that makes it easy to determine how high an applicant’s income can be while still technically being eligible for the program.
The general rule of thumb is that you need to earn no more than 50% of the median (average) income in your area in order to qualify. In reality, though, many families who are enrolled in the program earn much less than this amount.
It is your entire household income that matters here, so if you have two or three wage earners in your home, all the income amounts need to be added together.
Other Section 8 Requirements
While you can have a criminal record (even a felony) and still get access to Section 8 housing, the specific rules vary from PHA to PHA. Applicants who have a criminal record and are not sure if they are eligible for housing vouchers should contact their local PHAs and inquire as to whether or not you still qualify.
There are a few things that will make you completely ineligible for Section 8. These include:
- Being registered as a lifelong sex offender.
- Having a conviction related to producing methamphetamine in federal (public) housing.
- Having been evicted from any rental property in the last 3 years as a result of drugs.
Keep in mind that PHAs may have additional rules that determine eligibility. Finally, you must be a legal resident of the United States in order to qualify for Section 8.
How to Apply for Section 8
To actually apply for housing vouchers, you will need to contact your local PHA or the PHA in any area where you are interested in living. You can do so either by phone or e-mail.
Unfortunately, many more people apply for housing vouchers than are able to receive them. Therefore, you may find that waiting lists are closed when you inquire. Keep in mind, though, that you do not need to limit your search just to your area — you can apply for Section 8 through any PHA in the country as long as you are willing to move to that PHA’s area if you are accepted into the program.
Section 8 Waiting Lists
Because Section 8 vouchers are very sought-after, there is a very high chance you will be placed on a waiting list when you apply. There is also a high chance that the waitlist for a given area will not even be open or accepting applications.
Unfortunately, waiting lists are one of the major complaints of people who have applied to Section 8 because it can take a while before those who are accepted into a waitlist hear back.
If you are classified as having an extremely low income, you will likely be moved forward in the list.
Additionally, when it comes to Section 8 waitlists, certain preferences can shorten the amount of time you’ll have to wait. For example, if you have a disability that is being agitated by where you are living — like asthma, for example — you may get a boost on the waiting list depending on your PHA’s individual rules.
If you’re a senior, you may also be able to expedite the process. To be considered a senior, you may not have to be over 60 — some places consider 55 and over to be a senior.
What Happens After You Have a Voucher?
The main benefit to getting a voucher is that vouchers give you rent assistance no matter where you live. They are tied to you as a tenant, not to the building or unit you live in. Therefore, you are able to take your voucher with you if you decide to move.
Once you are accepted into the program, your next step will be to find a house or apartment that meets the program requirements. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has specific rules for determining whether or not a unit is safe and fit for someone to live in.
Additionally, HUD specifies that Section 8 only applies to fair market value for rent in each particular area.
This means that HUD will not agree to pay more than a certain amount in rent depending on what it considers a “fair rent” to be in a given area. HUD publishes yearly fair market rent prices based on county and metropolitan area. This is because (just like median income), rents vary depending on location.