If you’ve taken a look at housing prices recently, you’ve probably realized that even rentals are getting out of control. And, it’s not just housing, everything is getting more expensive. Healthcare, education, groceries, and transportation. Nowadays, it takes a lot more thinking and planning to budget for the month. For that already living paycheck-to-paycheck, these price hikes can be truly challenging.
On the positive side, there are ways in which you can save money. The government recognizes the financial struggle many have to deal with. That’s why the federal government created a series of affordable housing programs. These housing programs aim to lift the financial burden of housing off American shoulders. The trick with these programs is knowing which ones are best for you. You also need to know which ones you’re eligible for.
In this piece, we’re taking a look at one program. This program focuses on helping low-income families find affordable rental houses. Under the supervision of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the government created Section 8 housing. The program is also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
What Is Section 8 Housing?
Alright, so we already said this program has another name. That name is Housing Choice Vouchers. And, that’s what the program is all about, vouchers that help you choose your next home. What these vouchers do is that they help you pay for house rentals. Through this program, low-income families can spend less on their housing situations. That leaves these families with more money to focus on other financial responsibilities, such as healthcare, education, nutrition..etc.
Thankfully, you don’t actually need to drop by the actual department of Housing and Urban Development to start your application. There are a bunch of government offices that you’ll find in every state that is called Public Housing Authorities, or PHA for short. These PHA offices are where you should get all your confirmed information about Section 8. They’re also a great resource for other federal housing assistance programs. You’ll noticed when we talked about the application process that any communication regarding Section 8 will be with your local PHA.
I Understand That I Get A Voucher, But What Do I Do With It?
As we’ve said before, Section 8 aims to help families struggling financially. These vouchers basically help pay for these families’ rent. In general terms, voucher holders would be expected to pay 30% of their income towards their rent, while the rest would be paid using these vouchers. But, not just any house will accept these vouchers as a form of payment. That’s why you’ll need to search for houses that you can pay for through housing choice vouchers.
Who Is Section 8 Housing Meant For?
Alright, so we mentioned that the program is meant for low-income families in the US. We also realize that such assistance programs need to have certain criteria for people that can apply for them. Otherwise, everyone would be applying for these programs, causing long wait times for others. So, it’s important to know whether you qualify for the program or not before applying, so you don’t waste time and energy only to meet a dead end down the line. So, let’s take a look at those criteria, shall we?
- Applicants have to be US citizens or eligible immigrants. For non-citizens, the status of residence might greatly affect the extent of benefits received from the Section 8 program.
- You can only apply for this program if you’re 18 years old or above.
- For those who have a record of drug-related criminal offenses, applying for Section 8 might be very challenging. When applying for Section 8, you want to make sure that you don’t have such a record for at least 3 years before applying.
- This is probably the most important criterion to keep in mind. Section 8 housing is meant for low-income families. To qualify as “low-income,” you need to be earning less than 50% of the local area’s median. That means if the average income in your area is $50,000, you need to make less than $25,000 to qualify for Section 8.
- It’s important to know before applying that different PHAs can have different qualification standards. That means, your local PHA might require different qualifications from another PHA in a different city/state.
Section 8 Application Process
Now that we know who qualifies for the program, let’s take a look at how to actually apply. You should remember to always check with your local PHA for the most credible information, and for possible updates in the process.
- Reach out to your local Public Housing Authority. These offices are available in every state. If you’re having trouble finding the nearest one, check out this map provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Make very sure that you’re eligible for the program. We already mentioned the qualifications needed above (age, criminal background, income level..etc)
- Remember that different PHAs could have different requirements.
- Once you make sure you qualify, start filling in the application with all the required information. It’s super important that you’re truthful and accurate with the information you provide to avoid any unnecessary delays.
- Once you hand in that application, things will be up to your local PHA. They’ll process your application and contact you to let you know of their decision. PHAs will also notify you of the reason, in case of rejection.
- If it all goes well, and your PHA accepts your application, you’ll go on a waiting list.
- While on that waiting list (which could be a while) you should start looking into houses whose landlords accept these vouchers as a form of payment.
Documents Required For A Section 8 Application
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we want to remind you that different PHAs might ask for different qualifications and even documents. So, it’s always a good idea to check with your PHA to confirm the list of documents you need to provide. But, in a general sense, you can rely on this list of required documents.
- Birth certificates for all family members
- Social security cards for all family members
- Driver’s license
- State or alternate government-issued photo ID
- Passports for registered alien/immigrant family members, along with immigration papers
- Signed verification of immigrant status
- Social Security Verification Letter and Proof of Benefits
- Proof of income (receipts, tax returns, W2)
- Bank statements
- Documentation of public assistance benefits
- Information on any owned asset
We Mentioned Something About A Waiting List Earlier..
Waiting for your turn to get a Section 8 voucher can take quite a while. You’ll need to keep an eye on which waiting lists are open when you apply. But, PHAs will prioritize certain cases over others. If you fit any of the criteria we mentioned below, you should definitely use it to move up the list. Make sure you have the documents required to prove your case:
- Those who live in unsafe or unsanitary may get a higher priority
- PHAs prioritize people experiencing homelessness. Those experiencing it can refer to homeless shelters for the documents needed to prove their situation.
- Those suffering from domestic abuse also get a degree of prioritization
- Section 8 housing was created to help families struggling to afford rent. So, if you have receipts that show you pay more than 50% of your income towards your rent, they can be used to move up the waiting list.
- PHAs will also prioritize Families displaced due to circumstances out of their control PHAs will consider cases in which there were presidentially-declared disasters. Also, families that were evacuated according to orders from the federal government will be prioritized.
- You should definitely let your PHA know if you or any member in your family is disabled (that usually means a person who struggles with developmental and/or physical disabilities or suffers from a chronic mental disease).
- PHAs will also prioritize veterans and elderly folk.
Tips On How To Keep Your Section 8 Housing
Considering that the program provides such solid support to families that struggle to pay rent, it’s no surprise that the process can be long and demanding. You don’t want to lose that home after you’ve spent so long to get it. So, there are a few things you should be wary of so you don’t risk losing your Section 8 housing.
- You should let your PHA know about any changes regarding your living situation and your housing situation
- Let your PHA know if your income changes
- You should report any changes in your family status to your PHA
- Don’t let anyone move in without asking your PHA first
- You can use your Section 8 voucher to move to another city or state, but you’ll need to ask your PHA first
- Expect your PHA to do regular visits to your home. The purpose behind these visits is to make sure both you and your landlord are sticking to your agreement. Your PHA also needs to make sure that you’re both operating according to their guidelines.
- To add to the previous point, you’ll need to keep your house clean and safe, especially for kids. If PHA deems your Section 8 home unsafe for kids, there’s a chance you might lose it.
- Don’t be late with your rent payments. You don’t want your landlord to complain, that can cause you to lose the place
- You obviously shouldn’t be committing any crimes for any reason. However, it’s important to mention that being arrested for criminal activity might lead you to lose your housing voucher.
Let’s Wrap Things Up
So, we talked at length about how the housing market has been inflating recently. Many people struggle to make ends meet and housing expenses play a big role in that financial struggle. We explored the idea of saving some money by finding alternatives to regular housing solutions. During our talk, we mentioned government housing assistance programs that can help with the problem. We’re focusing mainly in this article on a program that goes by the name of Section 8 housing, also known as Housing Choice Vouchers.
The federal government created Section 8/Housing Choice Vouchers as a program that helps low-income families with paying for their rentals. The idea is that eligible candidates can use these vouchers to pay for a big portion of their rental fees. Benefits.gov tells us that eligible candidates would be expected to pay 30% of their income toward their rent. The vouchers can pay for the rest. That way, these families can use the rest of their income to pay for other important stuff like healthcare and education.
Let’s Go Over How To Qualify For Section 8 One More Time
First, you’ll need to be a US citizen or an eligible immigrant. The residence status for immigrants will definitely affect the extent of benefits they can get through this program. There’s also the age limitation of 18 years old or above. Another factor that will probably strongly affect your application’s success is your criminal background. PHAs will consider any drug-related criminal charges as a huge red flag, especially if they happened in the 3 years prior to the application. Most importantly, Section 8 targets low-income families. That means families need to prove that their income is less than 50% of their local median. Finally, keep in mind that different PHAs might have different requirements, so always check with your local one.
A Quick Recap Of The Application Process
If you’ve read through the article, you’ll notice that we mention you should always rely on your PHA. That’s where your application starts, and that’s where you’ll get the most accurate information on Section 8. Your local PHA will let you know whether you’re eligible or not, if yes, then you’ll start filling in your application. If PHA approves your application, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. You can climb up that waiting list if you fall within any of the categories we mentioned early.