It’s probably the biggest expense you face: your rent. And if you struggle to afford your rent payment every month, you’re not alone. The cost of rent has been inching up steadily over the last few years — and often faster than the pace of wages. The good news is that there are programs available to help qualified applicants find affordable housing. In this guide, we’ll look at two of the most common affordable housing programs and how you can qualify for them.
Two of the most common governmental programs aimed at helping elderly, disabled and low-income renters afford housing are known as Section 8 and Section 42.
Section 8 is actually a housing choice voucher program administered by the federal government’s Department of Urban Housing and Development (HUD). It allows participants to search for their own housing and then receive a subsidy to help pay for rent. Renters are typically responsible for paying up to 30 percent of their income toward rent, while the remaining amount is funded by vouchers provided by HUD.
Section 42 is a little different. It’s actually a housing tax credit program for builders and real estate developers who reserve space in their properties for affordable housing that is capped at a certain cost each month. In return, they receive a tax credit from the federal government. Properties that are financed under Section 42 must house a certain percentage of residents who earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.
Below we’ll describe the two programs in further detail, along with information on how to qualify and apply for each.
The Section 8 voucher program is administered by local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), which are funded by the Department of Urban Housing and Development. It lets low-income individuals and families find housing for rent on the private market that is suitable for them, whether that’s a single-family home, townhouse or apartment.
Participants can choose any housing that meets Section 8 housing requirements. All rentals must, however, meet health and safety standards are set by the PHA.
To qualify for Section 8 housing, you must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status and you must be able to demonstrate that your income is eligible for the program. Because the program is administered by local PHAs, there is no set national income standard. Your income eligibility is based on median income levels and housing costs in your local area.
However, it’s important to note that local PHAs must reserve at least 75 percent of their available Section 8 vouchers to families who do not earn income exceeding 30 percent of the area’s median income. And families earning more than 50 percent of the area’s median income cannot quality at all for the program.
To submit a Section 8 application, start by finding your local Public Housing Authority at the HUD website. Once you determine which PHA you belong to, you’ll have to search the name of your local PHA on the Internet to find its website address. Alternately, you can also call them directly through the contact information provided.
On the site, you will apply online for your Section 8 voucher, or learn how to apply in person. Typically, most programs have a dedicated application period during the year — often in January. This period can be short, sometimes only a week, so do your research to find out when you can apply.
You will be required to fill out a personal information form that includes your contact information, background and income information. Because each PHA has its own version of the online application process, some may require more documentation — like proof of citizenship or tax returns — for eligibility. Find a more detailed overview of the application process for Section 8 here.
Once your application is submitted, you will likely be placed on a voucher waiting list because demand exceeds supply for Section 8 housing. If you are chosen from the waiting list, your application information, including income, will be verified by the PHA and you will likely have to undergo some background checks.
If you're approved, the PHA will provide information on how to find eligible apartments in the area you’re seeking. However, you will be responsible for finding the housing that meets Section 8 requirements.
Once you find an eligible property, the landlord must agree to let you rent the place under the program’s conditions. The PHA will likely inspect the property and review the rent amount requested to make sure it’s reasonable. Once you move in, the PHA will pay the landlord a housing subsidy on your behalf. You will be responsible for paying the difference between the subsidy amount and the actual rent.
As mentioned above, Section 42 is not technically a governmental housing program. Instead, it’s part of the IRS tax code that benefits builders and real estate developers. In exchange for devoting part of their communities to affordable housing, they receive a federal tax credit that saves them money.
Any property that is financed under Section 42 must house a certain percentage of residents who earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income. The rent for these residents is capped at a fixed amount. Though the top limit for earning is 60 percent of the area’s median income, your eligibility depends on the requirements in your local area. Income limits vary by county and state.
Unlike Section 8, you must apply for Section 42 housing at a specific property's office itself. You can start by visiting your state’s HUD website here. There, you may find resources on how to find Section 42 properties in your area.
When you apply for housing in a Section 42 property, you will be required to provide income information, credit and criminal history and more. You may even need references. A compliance team will then verify your income and other information in order to approve you for the apartment you’re applying for. You won’t receive any subsidies to pay your rent — rather, the rent on the apartment or property will be capped at a certain level based on your income.
You may still qualify for Section 8 housing if you have had an eviction in your past. However, if you have been evicted from public housing or Section 8 housing for drug-related criminal activity, you are ineligible for the program for at least three years from the date of the eviction.
For Section 42 housing, the property landlord has discretion over whether you will be accepted for the housing if you have an eviction record.
If you live in Section 8 housing, you can be subject to eviction, but the process may be a little different from a typical eviction. A landlord of a Section 8 property — not the PHA or HUD — can initiate an eviction proceeding, but the local PHA must be notified of the eviction. Generally, the landlord will do this by sending a copy of the initial eviction notice to the PHA. For Section 42 housing, the IRS dictates that tenants can be evicted for “good cause.”
Reasons for eviction can include non-payment of the tenant’s portion of the rent, illegal use of the property (such as a drug-related criminal activity) or breaking the terms of a lease. However, the landlord must abide by all state and local laws governing eviction. This often includes a requirement that landlords obtain permission from the PHA to proceed with an eviction.
To avoid being evicted, aim to stay current on your rent and abide by the rules of your lease. You should also know your tenant rights. Find your state’s eviction laws and tenant rights here. In the eviction process, you will be taken to court, where you will have an opportunity to defend yourself. If you feel you are being wrongly evicted, you should aim to document as much as you can to bolster your case. Proof of rent payment on due dates and maintenance requests that were denied can help your case.