Section 8 Housing: What You Need To Know

Section 8 Housing is a federally-funded housing assistance program intended for low-income families, the elderly and disabled persons. Recipients are only required to put a portion of their income towards rent and the subsidized housing program covers the remaining housing costs. It ensures that low-income individuals and families receive safe, quality housing while alleviating the financial stress of costly housing.

Households can choose from a variety of housing types to fit their family size and needs. In addition, those who are elderly or disabled can receive assisted living or supportive services through specialized housing. Applicants must meet specific income requirements to obtain eligibility for Section 8 rentals.

Understand the Basics

Originally evolving from the Housing Act in 1937, this subsidized housing program is currently managed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Due to the high costs of decent and safe housing in many areas, under-served individuals and families are forced to live in substandard housing. Through Section 8, qualifying households can obtain and maintain housing in the private market by using housing choice vouchers that cover a large percentage of their rent.

Even though the process of applying is simple, there is a waiting list because of the program's popularity. Recipients of these vouchers are given the opportunity to choose a safe and sanitary home that meets Section 8 housing standards, as well as their household’s size and needs. These individuals are assisted by their very own Public Housing Agency (PHA) and can choose the type of rental unit depending on which housing voucher they receive. There are also subprograms that are tailored to the elderly and individuals with disabilities. To apply for Section 8, applicants must meet certain income requirements.

Housing choice voucher: How Does It Work

The Housing Choice Voucher program distributes two different types of vouchers to qualifying recipients: tenant-based vouchers and project-based vouchers.

Tenant-based vouchers allow households to rent any qualifying home or apartment in the private market as long as the landlord accepts vouchers. With these vouchers, tenants can choose to move at any time while maintaining their subsidized housing benefits.

In contrast, project-based vouchers are limited to certain Section 8 housing properties contracted with and overseen by HUD. Recipients who choose this voucher are willing to have their unit chosen for them. They do not get to keep their voucher benefit if they decide to move.

Those with tenant-based vouchers are encouraged to consider several Section 8 rentals before deciding on a home. Recipients are given a specific unit size that fits their family size and composition. Not only must they find a home that stays beneath their unit size limit, but recipients must find a home that meets health and safety guidelines. Once a housing choice voucher holder comes to a lease agreement with his or her landlord, the PHA inspects the unit and determines whether the apartment meets standards and is set at a reasonable rental price.

While the PHA sets a payment standard based on the general cost of a decent dwelling unit, voucher recipients are allowed to select a unit with a price that is above or below this standard. You may be wondering how much of income-based housing will a Section 8 voucher cover? A household is only required to put 30 percent of its monthly adjusted gross income towards rent and utilities while the voucher covers the remaining cost of rent. If the Section 8 rental is greater than the payment standard, then the household will be required to pay the additional amount. However, a household will not be required to pay beyond 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent.

Learn the Different Types of Section 8 Housing

With a housing choice voucher, recipients can choose from a variety of different homes. This includes all single-family homes, townhomes and apartments that accept Section 8 housing. These various types of housing are meant to accommodate both large and small households. While a larger household will need more space to accommodate all members, an individual voucher holder can save on housing costs by sticking to a studio apartment.

Voucher recipients can find Section 8 rentals in both suburban and metropolitan areas depending on their preference and lifestyle. Section 8 apartments are typically located in the city and are relatively small units best suited for individuals, couples and small families. While apartments are the cheapest option for housing, residents are more likely to experience high noise levels and restraints. Nonetheless, these residents have better access to public transportation and a closer commute to work.

Apartments generally provide amenities, such as pool and fitness center access. However, housing found on Section 8 housing lists are located outside of these areas and offer plenty of space to accommodate larger households with children. Larger families can enjoy a driveway, garage and yard, as well as nearby public schools for their children to quickly get to school.

Housing help for the elderly and persons with disabilities

In addition to the standard Section 8 apartments, there are other housing options designated for elderly and disabled individuals through Section 202 and Section 811. Similar to Section 8, these subsidized housing programs also provide housing vouchers that cover a substantial portion of rent while holders pay 30 percent of their net monthly income.

Elderly individuals with low-income can live safely and comfortable in senior apartments equipped with special features, such as wheelchair ramps and grab bars. Additionally, seniors can choose to live in apartments that provide daily assisted living services, including house cleaning, dressing and cooking. Through Section 811, disabled individuals can also live independently in housing that provides supportive services, such as housekeeping, personal assistance and counseling.

Section 8 Housing Requirements

To qualify for Section 8 housing, you must meet low-income requirements and other determining factors. While specific income requirements vary from one area to the next, you must have a household income that falls below 50 percent of the median income in the area you plan to live. If your income does not exceed 30 percent of the area’s median income, you have a better chance at receiving a housing choice voucher.

Legally mandated, a PHA is required to provide 75 percent of its vouchers to applicants with incomes below this percentage. If you are unsure of the income limits for your area and family size, the Section 8 office serving your community should be able to provide you with this information. In addition to your family income, the PHA will also request that you provide information regarding your family assets and composition. This information will be verified with your employer, bank and other local agencies to determine eligibility. Other circumstantial factors that may help you qualify for subsidized housing include the following:

  • Having a disability
  • Being homeless or residing in a shelter
  • Being a military veteran, widow or widower
  • Working more than 42 hours per week
  • Having children in your household
  • Being an elderly individual

It will be taken into consideration when determining your level of eligibility if you fit any of the above criteria. Once you meet program requirements, you will be put on a Section 8 waiting list based on preference, unless the PHA can assist you right away. Once your name has been reached on the list, you will be contacted by the PHA and issued your housing choice voucher.

Steps to Apply for Section 8 Housing

If you are looking to apply for Section 8 housing, you must contact your local HUD office or the PHA serving your community. While it may be possible to complete a form online, most agencies require that you complete a written Section 8 application in person. You can complete the application yourself or have a PHA worker assist you. The application will require that you provide personal information and information regarding your income.

You may be asked to complete an interview while providing important documentation, such as pay stubs, personal assets and bank statements. Be aware that you may only complete an application when your local Section 8 waiting list is open. A PHA may close its waiting list after it has reached a certain capacity. Upon submitting your application, you will receive a notice from the Section 8 office regarding the status of your application.

Steps to Find a Home That Meets Section 8 Housing Requirements

After receiving the housing choice voucher, you will need to find a home that meets Section 8 housing requirements. This is to ensure that your home is decent, safe and sanitary to live comfortably. All housing units are inspected and judged on various factors, including safety, space and security, performance and cleanliness. Additionally, Section 8 apartments and homes must have good air quality, water supply and temperature control. You must also find a unit that accommodates your family size and has working safety features, such as a smoke detector and working locks. You can utilize the inspection checklist provided by HUD to find out if the home you are interested in meets housing quality standards.