The Section 8 program began out of a 1937 housing act to provide subsidized rental units in specific locations to families and individuals who met eligibility requirements. Although the program has evolved over the decades, especially since 1974 with further Section 8 development, its primary purpose is to help low-income families find affordable housing. The most familiar parts of the Section 8 program are the housing choice vouchers and the project-based vouchers.
When seeking low-income housing assistance through the Section 8 program, applicants can receive a housing choice voucher or a project-based voucher. Housing choice vouchers allow applicants to seek any apartment or rental home that accepts Section 8 funding. As long as the unit owner maintains the property to government standards and follows any other regulations, the property is eligible. A project voucher is assigned to a particular location or housing unit rather than an applicant.
Section 8 housing is a valuable resource for many families looking for affordable housing. Not all applicants are able to obtain Section 8 housing vouchers if they do not meet the eligibility requirements outlined in this guide. Eligibility for Section 8 can indicate eligibility for other assistance programs to help with other bills. Not all properties accept housing vouchers, so it is important that applicants get information about housing lists and other Section 8 details.
In this guide, you will learn about Section 8 standards and eligibility requirements for the program. Although local public housing authorities (PHAs) can establish eligibility requirements for prospective applicants, PHAs must also obey federal regulations established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). One important requirement for Section 8 is the household income. Section 8 housing is typically available to households with very low incomes, although some PHAs may accept low-income applicants with higher household incomes. Typically, households eligible for Section 8 housing cannot have an income that goes over 50 percent of the area’s median income. However, median incomes vary by area, so two PHAs in the same state may have different income standards. Some areas may allow applicants to apply for Section 8 at multiple PHAs in the area, but that is at the discretion of the local housing authority. Median incomes for an area can fluctuate every year, so it is important that applicants pay attention to these changes. A family’s eligibility can change from year to year, so it is crucial that applicants always provide current household information. Additionally, standards for income also account for the number of people in a household.
HUD standards for Section 8 applicants also include qualifications based on citizenship status and a background check. Citizens of the U.S. and immigrants with proof of legal presence are eligible to receive benefits of Section 8 housing. Mixed families are households that have members with and without a legal immigration status, and these types of households can be eligible for Section 8 housing. Mixed families applying for Section 8 may receive a different voucher amount based on the members with a legal U.S. presence.
HUD guidelines also have requirements regarding an applicant’s criminal history. Applicants evicted from Section 8 housing for drug-related crimes cannot apply for Section 8 housing until three years after the crime. Additionally, anyone with a conviction of methamphetamine production is ineligible for a housing voucher. PHAs can establish additional requirements during a background check, if desired. For example, some PHAs may have a time limit for applicants convicted of other crimes that are not mentioned in PHA regulations. Some housing authorities will not accept applications from anyone who still owes money to a previous or current PHA.
You may not receive a voucher if you do not meet eligibility requirements for citizenship, background check or income guidelines. The PHA will send out a denial notice with the reason you did not obtain a voucher. If you believe you should be eligible, you have the right to dispute the decision. You may need to provide proof of eligibility during this appeals process. For example, if the household income data was incorrect, you may need to provide pay stubs or some other employment-related records as proof. If you receive a denial for your Section 8 application, you can download our guide to learn more about the appeals process.
This guide will also cover the topics of housing lists and waiting lists for Section 8 properties. A Section 8 waiting list has applicants who are eligible for Section 8 waiting to receive vouchers. Due to a high volume of voucher applicants, the list closes periodically and does not accept applications. The closing of the waiting list can be long, and many PHAs do not have an estimate on when the list will open again. Any potential tenants on the waiting list must make sure to make any necessary application updates as soon as possible. For example, if an applicant moves to a new home address and does not update the PHA of their new home or mailing address, she or he can miss the letter confirming the voucher. Changes in household income or composition can affect award amount and may even place a family on a priority list, if applicable.
Housing authorities can establish special priority listings, depending on the needs for the community. Applicants on a priority list may receive a voucher sooner than other applicants placed on a waiting list at an earlier time. Priority groups can include homeless applicants, households with young children, individuals with disabilities, veterans and elderly applicants. Anyone applying for Section 8 should check with a local PHA about the presence of special priority groups and eligibility requirements.
Section 8 housing lists are the next step for applicants who receive a Section 8 voucher. Anyone who receives the housing choice voucher must look for a home that accepts Section 8 payments. Many PHAs offer online resources for housing lists that show available Section 8 properties. These housing lists detail the amenities of the property, such as appliances and services offered by the property manager. Even if a Section 8 applicant receives a voucher, she or he must still meet unit owner requirements for the Section 8 property. Owners can require a credit or criminal background check, and they may have limits on the amount of occupants per unit. To learn more about applying for low-income housing, readers can download our comprehensive guide to Section 8 housing.