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What is Section 8 Housing? (FAQs)

By: Susan Finch
November 4, 2020

Are you looking into Section 8 Housing? The housing voucher program could help subsidize your rent and help you find an affordable apartment in your city.

The process isn't as complicated as some believe. However, it does require some patience and persistence. Learn the program's ins and outs, how to apply, and what to expect during the process.

What is Section 8?

Section 8 housing originally started in 1937. At that time, it was called Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937.

In 1974, the program was amended and expanded when Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act. This housing choice voucher program is run by the federal government. It helps low-income earners, the elderly, and the disabled find affordable accommodations.

The goal is to provide safe and sanitary housing, whether in an apartment, townhouse, or single-family home.

In 2018, over 5 million people used Section 8 housing vouchers to pay for some or all of their rent. The Section 8 program is free.

However, income requirements can vary depending on where you live. The Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) will also determine if a rental property or apartment meets the requirements of the program.

Not all landlords accept Section 8 housing vouchers. However, there are units available beyond traditional subsidized housing projects.

Once someone is approved for Section 8, they must find a rental that meets the minimum health and safety standards. However, tenants don’t directly handle the vouchers. The housing subsidy is paid directly from the public housing office to the landlord.

Most households end up paying 30% to 40% of their income on rent. Section 8 pays the rest.

How to Determine Section 8 Eligibility

Not everyone who earns a low-income wage will be eligible for Section 8 housing. The PHA determines your housing voucher eligibility, in addition to whether or not the dwelling is approved for Section 8 housing.

PHA examines your annual gross income and family size. They’ll look into whether any non-citizens have eligible immigration status. The rule of thumb is your income cannot exceed 50% of your country or metro area's median income.

However, it's common for eligible applicants to make much less than the 50% rule. Despite the rule, up to 75% of Section 8 participants must have incomes that do not exceed 30% of the area median income.

HUD determines the income limits per area and publishes their data online to the public. And even if you are approved for a housing voucher, you may end up on a lengthy waitlist, depending on the area's demand. You may also discover that the waitlist is closed altogether and the local PHA isn’t taking applications.

There are also background checks for all Section 8 applicants. However, you can still get approved even with a felony or if you're on parole, depending on the offense that was committed.

And if you're already planning to move to a new area, you don't have to wait until you get there. Applicants are allowed to apply to a local housing authority without actually living there.

How to Apply for Section 8

If you think your income meets your area's requirements, you can apply for a housing voucher through the local PHA. Or, contact the nearest HUD Office for more information.

You can also ask a local PHA representative to help you apply for Section 8. Although this may take longer, it could help the process. If you make a mistake on your application and are denied, you may not be able to apply again for Section 8 for an entire year.

Section 8 Housing Wait Lists

Depending on the demand in your area, it can take weeks or possibly months to hear back about your application status. You might be able to speed things up by applying online.

Paper applications usually take longer to be processed. In most situations, the housing office will mail a letter to confirm your waitlist status and directions to log onto an online portal. If you don't receive a letter, follow up to inquire if they accepted your application or not.

If you have a medical condition, a doctor's note may be able to speed up your wait time. A health issue like asthma that's aggravated by where you live could be reason enough to bump you up the list.

The doctor's note should explain how new housing is necessary to help your condition. Vulnerable populations like the elderly, disabled residents, pregnant women, and those experiencing homelessness are also given preference for Section 8 Housing.

Keeping in contact with the housing office is generally the only way to know your position on the waitlist. Update the office with any changes in information if you move or change your number. Otherwise, they could terminate your application if their notices are returned and can't reach you.

Purging is also a standard process. The housing office will periodically ask if you want to remain on their waitlist. If they don't hear back, they could remove your name to help reduce the demand for Section 8 in your area.

Differences Between Section 8 and Section 42 Housing

Section 42 also helps low-income homeowners. However, it doesn’t provide government assistance.

Builders who finance their properties with Section 42 are required to offer a percentage of their units to residents earning less than 60% of their area's median income. In other words, your rent ends up being capped at a fixed amount.

In return, builders and developers receive a tax credit that helps free up more money for their project. Unlike Section 8, you apply for Section 42 Housing directly with the property management.

Section 8 Approvals

If you're approved for Section 8 vouchers, expect to attend a final in-person interview. The public housing office may request all household members to attend or ask only you to come.

The meeting is mandatory. You'll need to make arrangements to make the scheduled appointment. Otherwise, you’ll risk losing your voucher status.

Where to Find Section 8 Housing

Only specific complexes, homes, apartments, and townhouses are eligible for Section 8 housing. Narrow down your options by using HUD's Resource Locator to find affordable housing in your area.

You can also look for a nearby public housing office, homeless resources, and affordable housing for elderly and special needs renters.

With a little persistence and the right requirements, Section 8 housing is within reach. Start by examining the income requirements in your area and apply as soon as possible.

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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