This comprehensive guide will show you how the government’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) can help.
- What Is the Purpose of the Housing Choice Voucher Program
- How Does a PHA Determine If a Family Is Eligible for a Section 8 Voucher?
- What Documents Will I Need to Apply for a Housing Voucher?
- How Do I Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher?
- How Long Is the Waiting List for Section 8 Vouchers?
- How Much Is a Section 8 Voucher Worth?
- Is There a Cap on Section 8 Rent?
- What Are the Restrictions When Choosing Section 8 Housing?
- How Long Is a Section 8 Lease?
- What Responsibilities Will I Have Once I’m a Section 8 Tenant?
- Will I Lose Section 8 Benefits If I Move?
- Can I Buy a Home With a Section 8 Voucher?
- How Do I Contact the HUD?
The dream of moving your family to a better home in a safer neighborhood can become your reality via a Section 8 voucher. This guide will cover many frequently asked questions about the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
You may have heard of Section 8 before, but would probably like to know precisely what it is and how it can help your family. Well, before looking for answers to your questions anywhere else, keep reading, as we’ll answer a ton of standard Section 8 voucher questions here.
What Is the Purpose of the Housing Choice Voucher Program?
The Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is more commonly known by its old “Section 8” name, was put together with the goal of helping low-income families live in safer homes and neighborhoods. It does this by providing part of their rent so they can meet their monthly expenses.
While the benefits of Section 8 vouchers are obvious for families since they can improve their well-being and quality of life, they can also help the government. The more Section 8 helps families become self-sustainable, the less they’ll have to rely on other government programs.
Since vouchers are limited, local public housing agencies (PHAs) must be selective in who they award benefits to. To achieve this goal, they use a variety of factors to determine eligibility and need, such as family size and household income.
Once a family becomes eligible for a Housing Choice Voucher and receives it, they can seek housing to meet their needs. As long as the house meets the program’s standards, they can move in and start to enjoy their home.
How Does a PHA Determine If a Family Is Eligible for a Section 8 Voucher?
As much as you may want to move your family into a better home now, you should first know what PHAs look for when determining eligibility. In doing so, you’ll see if you have a decent chance of getting accepted into the program, so you don’t waste your time applying and waiting.
Since the approval process for Section 8 can take months after you submit your application, the last thing you want to do is wait for something dead from the start. For this reason, let’s look a the four main criteria PHAs use to see if you’re eligible for a voucher:
1. The size of your family.
If your family situation is a bit complicated and doesn’t follow the norm, don’t worry. The government has various definitions of what qualifies as a family. As long as yours sits in one of these categories, you should be good to go:
- A family with or without children – Do you have children that do not live at home with you? If they’re in foster care or outside of the house, you could still qualify as a family.
- Elderly family – Is the head of household or single family member over 62 years old? Are two members of the family over 62? Is one over 62 and residing with a live-in aide? Any of these qualifies you as being part of an elderly family.
- Disabled family – Does the single family member or head of household have disabilities? Do two more family members have disabilities? Does one person have disabilities and live with an aide? Any of these qualifies you as part of a disabled family.
- Displaced family – Can you no longer live in your home due to destruction or damage caused by a natural disaster? Has government action removed you from your home? Either place you in the displaced family category.
- Remaining member of a tenant family – Only one person of a family receiving voucher assistance has to remain in the home to qualify under this category.
Single person – If you don’t fit into any of the categories above, you can still qualify as a family via the single person label.
2. Your family’s income.
The government created the Housing Choice Voucher program with low-income families in mind. As such, income limits play a massive part in the approval process. If your family’s income is too high, you may not be eligible for Section 8 benefits.
One thing that may be in your favor is family size. The bigger your family, the more income is allowed. Since a family can have up to eight members, you could still enjoy a higher overall income while qualifying for Section 8.
Besides your family size, income limits also vary depending on where you live. And once a PHA determines what all of your family members make, it will use that to place your family into one of the following categories:
- Low income
- Very low income
- Extra low income
What’s the general standard for income eligibility? Your family will need to earn less than half of the median income for your area. What’s the purpose of those three income tiers? To give the PHA a guide as to who needs vouchers most.
By law, PHAs must give three out of every four of their housing vouchers to families in the lowest income category. If you find that you fall into that category, you can be a bit more optimistic about your chances of getting a voucher than someone with a higher income.
Since vouchers are so limited, falling into the lowest income category becomes a crucial factor in determining who gets Section 8 benefits.
To qualify for the extremely low-income category, you’ll need to make less than 30 percent of the poverty line or the local median income, whichever is higher.
Again, don’t stress if you feel like your income is too high for a voucher. If you have several family members, that will allow for higher pay since there are more mouths to feed.
Income limits not only vary due to where you live, as they can also vary due to the year. Since they can change often, you’ll want to keep an eye on the limits for your area before applying for Section 8.
You can see income limits for your area and family size by going here.
The PDF will illustrate how more family members allow for higher overall income. The acceptable income for a one-person family is much different than that of an eight-person family. You can also see the three income tiers to get a clearer idea of where your family stands.
3. The citizenship status of your family members.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is reserved for citizens and permanent residents of the United States. If your family contains a mix of citizenship statuses under one roof, however, you can still qualify for Section 8.
The voucher value you receive will depend on how many eligible family members you have. In other words, if two members of your family are citizens and the other three aren’t, you can expect to qualify for a voucher that covers just the two eligible people. The other three will not be included in the calculation.
While having a family of mixed citizenship will lower your voucher value, it’s still good to know that those members can still benefit indirectly from a voucher by having a roof over their heads.
4. Your family’s eviction history.
Low-income families may be more susceptible to evictions than others due to money issues. Will this keep you from getting Section 8 assistance? Not necessarily, as long as your removals are not related to drugs.
Evictions due to drug-related criminal activity will disqualify you from voucher eligibility for three years. To apply and have any chance at approval, you’ll have to wait three years past the date of that eviction until you can try again.
After looking at these four factors for eligibility, do you think your family can qualify for Section 8? If so, it’s time to look at what the application process looks like so you can begin getting everything in order.
What Documents Will I Need to Apply for a Housing Voucher?
If you want your Section 8 application to process as smoothly as possible, you’ll need to spend some time gathering documentation and paperwork.
This is an absolute must since your PHA will use those documents to verify income, citizenship status, and other bits of information needed to determine your family’s eligibility.
While gathering up documents for yourself is plenty of work, know that you’ll need documents for every family member if you hope to include them in your application.
The documents you need can be divided into two main sections, with the first covering general identification and citizenship and including:
- Birth certificate
- Driver’s license
- Social Security card
- Government or state photo ID
- Passport (for any non-U.S. citizens)
- Immigration documents
The second group of documents you’ll need cover income and include:
- Tax returns, W2 forms
- Pay stubs or other proof of income
- Information regarding assets you own
- Benefit verification letter for Social Security
- Paperwork showing that you receive any additional public assistance
Ask your PHA for an exact list of the documents you’ll need. Even if you’re missing one, it could delay the application process.
Although these documents will play a primary role in determining your Section 8 eligibility, they will also be used to assess your voucher value once you get accepted. The amount of your voucher will give you a better idea of what type of housing you can secure.
As a side note, remember that your documents should all be authentic. The same holds for your answers or information submitted on your application.
Do not change any numbers with the hopes of making your family eligible for Section 8. Your PHA will cross-check the information with local agencies, your bank, and employer to ensure everything is correct.
How Do I Apply for a Housing Choice Voucher?
Getting a Housing Choice Voucher can improve the quality of life for your family. By moving to a safer home or neighborhood, your kids can go to better schools, and you may enjoy perks too in terms of convenience, more job options, etc.
For all of these reasons, make it a priority to apply for Section 8 a quickly as you can. The sooner you have that voucher in your hands, the quicker you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits better housing can bring.
Section 8 vouchers are limited. Combine this with high demand from low-income families, and it’s no wonder why voucher waiting lists can be so long.
Getting approved is just the first part of the process, so to move towards that, follow these steps:
1. Locate your Public Housing Agency.
Even though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is in charge of Section 8 funds, it’s your local PHA that will process your application.
The first step in the Section 8 application process is to locate your PHA, which can be done by going to the HUD’s website.
Click your state on the map, and you will see a list of offices. Keep scrolling until you see yours and write down the information. You’ll be needing it frequently.
2. Check your family’s eligibility.
As mentioned, your location, family size, and income limits will play a big part in seeing if you’re eligible for a voucher. Combine those factors with citizenship status and eviction history, and you’ll have the info your PHA needs to know if you have a chance at becoming a Section 8 recipient.
Here’s where you’ll need to have your documentation handy. Without it, your PHA cannot tell if you’re eligible or not.
3. Get your voucher application.
There are several ways to get your Housing Choice Voucher Program application. The options available to you vary by location.
Contact your PHA to see what’s your best bet so you can get started. The most common options include getting an application in person, online, or via mail.
4. Complete the application.
No matter how much of a rush you may be in to get a voucher, you must take your time when completing your application. You want to ensure all of the information is correct and complete, as well as truthful.
Be prepared to provide standard information on each family member, such as their date of birth, income, phone number, etc. Since a larger family size allows for more pay, try not to skip any members just because you’re missing information.
You’ll probably have some questions when completing the Section 8 application. Since you want the process to be as mistake-free as possible, don’t hesitate to ask your PHA for any clarity.
They’ll know all the details and can give you tips on what’s needed to make your application not only complete, but also so it stands out from the competition.
5. Apply on time.
Once you verify that everything in your application is correct, submit it by the due date. Some PHAs have specific due dates, so missing one could result in a significant delay.
6. Wait for the PHA’s decision to accept or reject.
There will be plenty of waiting involved. After submitting your application, you may have to wait a few months for a response.
The PHA will let you know if your family was accepted or rejected. If approved, you’ll be placed on a waiting list to get a housing voucher.
How Long Is the Waiting List for Section 8 Vouchers?
Finding out you’re eligible for Section 8 assistance is excellent news. Approval of your application doesn’t mean you automatically get a voucher, however.
Once approved, you will be put on a waiting list. And since the demand for housing assistance is so high, you can be waiting for several months to put your family into a new home.
Ask your PHA what your options are. You can sometimes apply via more than one PHA near you to up your chances of approval and accelerate the process.
Besides applying to other PHAs, four special situations can move you up the waiting list so you can get your voucher quicker.
If you’re homeless, living in substandard housing, pay more than half your income in rent, or have been displaced due to disaster or the government, you could gain voucher priority. Be sure to tell your housing counselor if any of those apply to your family’s current situation.
How Much Is a Section 8 Voucher Worth?
Despite what many think, Section 8 will not pay for all of your rent. You will have to pay 30 percent of your income or a minimum of $50 per month towards utilities and rent, whichever is higher. The voucher will cover the rest of the expenses.
Is There a Cap on Section 8 Rent?
Your PHA will set a payment standard, which is a cap on rent to ensure the housing you select is moderately priced for the area. If you choose a home that’s more expensive than the payment standard, you will have to pay any difference in the rent.
What Are the Restrictions When Choosing Section 8 Housing?
You won’t be limited to subsidized housing projects if you get approved for a voucher. You can live in a single-family home, apartment, or townhome as long as it meets the Housing Choice Voucher Program’s Housing Quality Standards (HQS).
These standards cover a host of factors, such as the neighborhood, cleanliness, water availability, structure, indoor air quality, and more. The PHA will use these factors to determine whether the housing you choose is suitable for voucher use.
Once you feel like you’ve found the perfect Section 8 housing, three things must happen before you can move into the home.
First, the landlord will have to accept Housing Choice Vouchers. Second, the PHA will have to review and confirm that the home satisfies HQS. And third, the PHA will have to verify that the home’s rent is in line with the payment standard.
How Long Is a Section 8 Lease?
After the home you choose is accepted for voucher use, you will have to sign a minimum 12-month lease with the landlord. A security deposit may be required that cannot be more than one month’s rent.
After the initial lease ends, the landlord can allow you to live in the home on a month-to-month basis. They can also create a new contract.
What Responsibilities Will I Have Once I’m a Section 8 Tenant?
Once you’re living in your Section 8 home, you will have the following primary responsibilities, among others:
- Pay your rent portion on time.
- Maintain the home in good condition.
- Follow the lease agreement.
- Abide by the Housing Choice Voucher Program’s requirements.
- Notify the PHA of any changes in family composition or income.
- Abstain from criminal activity.
At the same time, your landlord will have to:
- Follow the lease agreement.
- Offer the home at a reasonable rent.
- Receive PHA voucher payments.
- Keep the home in a condition that meets HQS.
The PHA will pay the landlord directly every month. It will also ensure your family meets the program’s standards by reviewing income and composition once a year, plus the home.
As for the HUD, it will disburse federal funds to the PHA for voucher payments, plus ensure that the agency follows guidelines accurately.
Will I Lose Section 8 Benefits If I Move?
If your family has to move, you don’t want to have any gaps in your Section 8 assistance. As long as you’ve lived in the home you first received support in for one year, you should be able to receive vouchers after moving.
If you have any doubts or are contemplating a move, contact your PHA beforehand so they can confirm your continuation of benefits. You will have to end your existing lease with the landlord. You will also have to ensure that the new home passes HQS.
Can I Buy a Home With a Section 8 Voucher?
If you’re looking to buy your first home, the Homeownership Voucher Program can help. Instead of using your voucher towards rent, it can be used towards your mortgage payment.
Restrictions apply, so contact your PHA for more details.
How Do I Contact the HUD?
For any questions on the Housing Choice Voucher Program or Section 8 rental assistance, contact the HUD by calling 1-800-955-2232. They can answer your call between 9 am and 5 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.