Understanding Section 8 can be a complicated task. Your Section 8 housing guide provides a comprehensive overview of how the program works, what it is designed to do and who can benefit from it. It is important to familiarize yourself with the Section 8 program in order to determine how you can use it to your advantage and what you should expect.
The Section 8 program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is managed at the local level by public housing authorities (PHAs). Individuals apply directly to their PHAs for a housing voucher and wait to be selected for the program. However, not everyone is eligible to receive this benefit. The sections below go over the purpose of the program, eligibility requirements, how to apply and how to use a voucher.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program
The Section 8 housing choice voucher program was created in 1974. It expanded the previous federal housing program to allow low-income individuals or families a greater variety of housing options. The federal government passed the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, which created public housing. This provided affordable housing that low-income individuals and families could live in, owned and managed by local public housing authorities
In 1974, the federal government launched the voucher program in order to push back against a new issue that had developed. Previous housing programs were tied to specific properties, which meant low-income families must live in those homes to receive affordable housing. This often restricted low-income families to poorer parts of a city or town.
The housing choice voucher program allows low-income individuals to rent from private landlords across the country, rather than restricting them to government housing. This allows families to participate in the wider rental market and expand their potential options. Those with a voucher are only required to pay 30 to 40 percent of their monthly income on rent. The remaining portion is covered by funding from HUD.
Applying for Section 8 Benefits
To apply for Section 8 benefits, you must first determine if you are eligible to receive them. Eligibility requirements vary by state and region. However, in general you should meet the following qualifications to receive a voucher:
- You must be a U.S. citizen or legal immigrant.
- Your total household income must not exceed 50 percent of the median income of your area.
- You must be at risk of homelessness or spending a large portion of your income on rent.
If you meet the local qualifications, you can submit an application. Depending on your local PHA’s policies, you may be able to submit an application online, by mail, by fax or in person. Expect to provide a Social Security Number and birth certificate for all members of your household. You must also report all income sources and assets for every member of your household.
You cannot always apply for Section 8. Many PHAs have a long waiting list in place. In order to control the waiting list, PHAs may only open applications for a short period of time. If your PHA is not currently accepting applications, you should keep an eye on it to determine when it will accept applications.
The Section 8 Wait List
After you submit your application, your PHA will place your name on its waiting list. Demand for vouchers vastly exceeds supply, which means waiting lists can often takes months or years to go through. Your placement on the waiting list depends on when you submit your application as well as your individual circumstances.
Once you submit your application, you must keep your information up to date. This includes reporting any changes to your income, your household makeup or your living circumstances. For instance, if you become homeless while waiting for a voucher you should inform your local PHA. This could accelerate your path towards obtaining a voucher.
Many PHAs prioritize particular applicants over others. For instance, a PHA may prioritize housing those who are homeless or at immediate risk of becoming homeless first. That means applicants in that situation may receive a voucher faster than other applicants, even if they did not apply first. In some cases, applicants can contact their PHA to determine their placement on the waiting list. However, this is not always the case.
Using Your Section 8 Voucher
Once you receive your Section 8 voucher, you can use it to find a property owned by a private landlord in the rental market. When searching for an apartment, you must keep in mind that it should be priced in line with market rates. You cannot choose a luxury apartment with a Section 8 voucher. Once you find a property and it is approved by your PHA, you can move in and begin paying your portion of the rent. Your PHA will pay the remaining portion.
Typically, you must sign a minimum one-year lease to use your voucher. Once you sign a lease, it is important to uphold the terms of the lease with your landlord. You can still be evicted from a property for violating the lease agreement under Section 8. You can also be evicted for failing to pay your portion of the rent.
If you follow the rules of your lease agreement and Section 8 and remain eligible for benefits, you can keep your voucher and continue to use it. If your income or household makeup changes such that you no longer require benefits, however, you may lose the voucher. Additionally, if you are convicted of particular crimes while residing in a Section 8 property, you may lose the voucher. Eviction from the Section 8 program generally makes you ineligible to reapply, so you should take care to follow the rules of the program and your lease.
Homeownership With a Section 8 Voucher
Although the primary purpose of the housing choice voucher program is to help individuals pay rent, it is not restricted to that. The program also allows families the option of purchasing the property they are living in, if they meet some of the following requirements:
- You must not have owned a house before.
- You must meet the minimum income requirements.
- Someone in your household must be regularly employed for at least a year.
- You must meet your PHA’s eligibility requirements.
- You must attend a PHA homeownership counseling program.
If you are interested in this program, you can contact your PHA directly to learn more about its requirements and whether this is available. However, purchasing a home can come with numerous added expenses. Therefore, you should be certain that you are financially stable enough for homeownership before pursuing it.