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Learn About Section 8 Housing Assistance

Individuals struggling to afford their monthly rental payments can benefit from learning how to apply for Section 8. This federal program provides financial assistance to U.S. citizens and qualifying residents who cannot afford their monthly rental payments. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is administered at the state and local level. Funding is sent to public housing authorities (PHAs) in communities across the country.

Section 8 allows low-income individuals to remain in the private rental marketplace. It minimizes the effects of rising rental costs, and gives low-income families options outside of public housing. Additionally, because there are no time limits associated with the program, participants can use housing benefits to obtain long-term stable housing.

What is Section 8?

The Section 8 program covers a portion of the monthly rental cost for participants who have a voucher. Those who have a voucher are only required to pay between 30 and 40 percent of their monthly household income on rent. The remainder is covered by their PHA. HUD issues funding to individual PHAs for a certain number of vouchers based on a community’s population size and overall need. PHAs must distribute the vouchers to qualified applicants.

Applicants with vouchers must find a suitable apartment priced in line with local market rates. PHAs may assist in the housing search, but it is ultimately up to applicants to choose their home. After locating suitable low income housing, the applicant must convince a landlord to accept the voucher. Some states have protections in place that forbid landlords from discriminating against tenants based on source of income, including Section 8 vouchers. However, many states do not have this protection in place. In some cases, it can be difficult to find housing.

Once a tenant finds someone to accept his or her voucher, the tenant must sign a minimum one-year lease and pay a security deposit, if required. Then, the tenant will pay his or her portion of the monthly rent directly to the landlord. The PHA will separately pay its portion of the rent monthly as well.

There is no restriction on how long a beneficiary can continue using a Section 8 housing voucher, so long as he or she remains eligible. Changes to the household makeup and income can change someone’s eligibility for the program. Additionally, tenants can be removed from the program for violating rules, including illegally adding members to the household, failing to pay rent or committing criminal offenses in the apartment.

Section 8 Requirements

Not everyone is eligible for a Section 8 housing voucher. In general, only “very low-income” families, the elderly and disabled individuals can apply for section 8. HUD regulations specify that 75 percent of vouchers in an area must be distributed to “extremely low-income families.” This refers to families with a household income totaling less than 30 percent of the median household income for an area.

The remaining 25 percent of vouchers can go to “very low-income” families earning 50 percent or less of the median household income. In a few cases, applicants earning up to 80 percent of the median household income for an area may apply, but this is rare.

Because the Section 8 requirements vary based on local trends, the income requirement can be very different across the country. For instance, the cut-off point for a three-person family applying in Issaquena County, Mississippi is $22,300. Families earning more than that do not qualify for Section 8. However, in San Francisco, a three-person family can earn up to $72,550 and qualify for assistance.

How to Apply for Section 8

The process to submit a Section 8 application varies by location. Some PHAs have updated their systems, allowing applicants to submit their applications, update their information and check their current status online. This minimizes the risk of losing documents in the mail.

However, many PHAs still require applicants to fill out a paper application and mail it in, fax it in or bring it in person to the office. In some cases, applicants may be required to schedule an in-person appointment and bring financial documents to the appointment in order to apply for section 8.

Regardless of the method in place to submit applications, applicants generally need to provide the same information. This includes Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and birth certificates for every member of the household. It also includes information about all sources of income, assets and savings for the household.

The Section 8 application typically also requires candidates to state their previous rental history or testimony from previous landlords. Some PHAs screen applicants to determine whether they are acceptable tenants, while others do not.

Once someone submits an application, he or she is placed on the Section 8 waiting list. It can often take several months or years to receive a voucher after applying due to the high demand. Additionally, some applicants may be prioritized over others, depending on the PHA. For example, one PHA may prioritize housing veterans while others prioritize victims of domestic violence.

How to Use a Section 8 Housing Voucher

Once an applicant receives a voucher, he or she must begin searching for a property. It can be difficult to find low income apartments for rent. Fortunately, many PHAs maintain a Section 8 housing list of landlords they have worked with in the past. These lists include units currently on the market and accepting Section 8 vouchers. However, applicants also have the option to reach out to private landlords and ask them to accept the voucher.

After finding suitable housing, a voucher holder must sign a lease with the landlord and pay a security deposit, if required. PHAs do not typically cover the cost of a security deposit. Once the lease is signed, the PHA must perform an inspection of the property. If everything goes well, the tenant can move in and begin paying rent.

While living in Section 8 housing, participants must follow the rules of their landlord and of the program. Someone may be evicted for committing crimes in the apartment, illegally subletting the apartment or failing to pay his or her portion of the rent. Additionally, beneficiaries cannot invite unapproved friends or family to live in the property with them. Any changes to income or household makeup must be reported to the PHA.