Section 8 is a federal program that was created under Lyndon B. Johnson to help people with low income pay for rent. It's also known as the Federal Housing Choice Vouchers Program and is maintained by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Around two million families take advantage of Section 8. These families, who typically earn less than $20,000 a year, live in subsidized units. Seventy-five percent of vouchers are given to families who are in the extremely low-income range. These are people who earn less than 30 percent of the median income within their area.
The program provides monthly rental assistance by giving housing choice vouchers.
Here's what you need to know about Section 8 and how to qualify.
The nice thing about this program is that Section 8 apartments don't necessarily fall into the “cheap apartments for rent" bucket. Some buildings are brand new, but what you will generally find will depend on the area you're searching in.
People who are looking for Section 8 apartments need to look for one that accepts Section 8 vouchers and meet the housing quality standards, as set by the program. This means not all local areas will have the same standards and rules, since rental markets vary from city to city, and within different states. An example of a housing quality standard may be for an apartment to have reasonable rent, as compared to similar units in the market for that area.
The Public Housing Authority (PHA) determines the number of vouchers given on a case-by-case basis. Vouchers are only applicable to certain complexes that have been verified and inspected by the local Public Housing Authority.
Section 8 quick tips
Section 8 apartments require tenants to work directly with an apartment owner, landlord or property management company to rent a unit. In other words, even if you're working with your local PHA, they won't necessarily help you rent the apartment and sign the lease.
The program is intended for the elderly, disabled and those who are living in poverty. Because of this, there are specific guidelines laid out by the Federal government to determine if you would qualify for Section 8 apartments.
The rental amount for Section 8 apartments means you'll pay a portion and the government will pay the rest. It's based on 30 percent of the tenant's income. The voucher is the document that makes up the difference in what you can afford and the actual cost of the rent. This calculation is handled on the local level by public housing agencies.
HUD sets income limits annually. They're segmented in three categories: extremely low income, very low income and low income. The income levels depend on the area's median income level.
Here's what that breakdown looks like:
Because Housing Choice Vouchers are administered locally, there isn't a single defined national standard for how Section 8 voucher recipients are chosen. Generally, eligibility is based on local median income levels and housing costs.
However, there are some overarching guidelines that can help determine eligibility. For example, the local PHA must grant at least 75 percent of its available Section 8 apartment vouchers to families who don't exceed 30 percent of the median income. Also, if the recipient families exceed 50 percent of the median income for their area, they won't remain eligible.
Other eligibility requirements pertain to previous rental history (i.e. evictions), citizenship status and criminal record history. Those guidelines include:
The Housing Choice Vouchers Program puts the benefit recipient family in charge of their own living arrangements. The local Public Housing Authority determines a payment standard based on family size and arrangement by taking into account local rental rates for moderately-priced rental properties.
The family can choose any safe, habitable rental property – even if the rental rate is higher than the payment standard set by the Public Housing Authority. The family will simply be responsible for paying the additional rent.
The program even allows for families to move if necessary for a growing family, job relocation or any other reason. The move can take place within the same locale but families that receive Section 8 benefits can also move anywhere within the U.S.
Section 8 rental applications are generally done on-site at your local public housing or HUD office. Here's a quick list of what to understand before you apply:
The housing authority is in charge of waiting lists for Section 8 applicants. Due to the high number of applicants, even if you qualify and meet the requirements, you may not get accepted.
Once you submit your application, make sure to confirm that you're on the list. The application process may take up to a few months. You can confirm your waiting list placement by mail or by logging into an online portal. Set a reminder so you don't forget.
Here's what to expect if you're successfully accepted with a voucher for Section 8.
The process to apply and get approved for a Section 8 housing voucher is a process that requires research and diligent follow-through.
Make sure you have all of your paperwork ready. Write down any questions you may have and reach out to your local PHA to get them answered.
Here are useful links to bookmark, in the process: