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Your Guide to Section 8 Housing Assistance

Paying rent is a necessity that families throughout the United States need to budget for each month. For many, this is the most costly expense they have to pay for. 

In major cities, rent prices are especially high. As the average costs of living and real estate continue to rise, families are usually required to spend more than they were in the past.

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For low-earning households, this can be especially problematic.

Since most families’ wages do not increase in proportion to the rising rent prices, some households might struggle to find affordable housing opportunities.

The Section 8 housing choice voucher program aims to make rent more affordable for families and eliminate this problem.

If you’re awarded a Section 8 housing voucher, you can use program benefits to subsidize the amount you’d be required to pay in rent each month.

These benefits are helpful, but they aren’t available to everyone.

You need to qualify for Section 8 in order to receive a voucher. The sections below explain how you can qualify for this program and the eligibility requirements you need to be aware of. 

What is Section 8?

Section 8 is a governmental program that is managed on a local level.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  gives program funds to public housing agencies (PHAs), and these entities then distribute the benefits to qualifying households.

This program is available in all parts of the country. This means that households can apply for benefits regardless of where they live. 

However, families should keep in mind that PHAs usually have long waiting lists.

As a result, they may need to wait a few months or years before they can receive benefits, even if they are accepted into the program.

Learn About Section 8 Requirements 

Individual housing agencies are responsible for making sure the Section 8 program in their jurisdictions operates smoothly. As a result, enrollment requirements may vary slightly from one PHA to another. This is usually true in terms of income requirements candidates must meet to receive Section 8. 

While PHAs’ requirements may be slightly different from one location to another, the majority of these eligibility criteria are uniform throughout the country. Read below to learn about the general Section 8 requirements you need to be aware of if you want to obtain a housing voucher where you live. 

Get Information About Family Earnings 

Regardless of where you’re applying for benefits, Section 8 vouchers are only available to families that demonstrate high levels of financial need. 

When a PHA looks at your financial eligibility, it will examine how much your household’s gross income is. “Gross income” refers to the amount your family earns before taxes and other deductions are made.

This is different from your “net income,” which is the amount you receive in your paycheck.

Furthermore, keep in mind that different PHAs have their own requirements regarding how much you can earn and still apply for benefits. That’s because being qualified as “low-income” is dependent on where you live. 

Some parts of the country have higher median incomes than others. In these jurisdictions, you generally would need to earn more to qualify for a Section 8 housing voucher. 

Additionally, remember that your local PHA will also need to look at your overall financial situation to determine if you qualify for benefits.

This information is also used to determine if you’re eligible for financial assistance.

When looking at your financial situation, your PHA will also take into account the following forms of income and assets: 

  • Any tips you receive – If you work a job where you’re paid in tips, you’ll need to report this information to the PHA you’re applying for benefits through. 
  • Other forms of support you receive – If you receive Social Security benefits, alimony or food stamps, you may need to report this information to your local PHA. 
  • Assets or investments you possess– If you have money in a savings account or an investment account, you must provide this information to your public housing agency. 

About Citizenship/Immigration Status

Another requirement for receiving Section 8 relates to your citizenship or immigration status. U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for housing choice vouchers, as are immigrants. 

However, applications who were born abroad must possess a legal immigration status before they can qualify for a Section 8 housing choice voucher.

Candidates who do not legally reside in the United States are ineligible to receive benefits through a PHA.

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to provide documentation that verifies you fulfill this requirement. Depending on your situation, you may need to bring your: 

  • U.S. passport book or card. 
  • Legal residency card. 
  • Proof of naturalization. 

Be sure to check with your PHA to learn what documents you’ll need to submit. Without the proper documentation, the housing agency cannot issue a determination as to whether you qualify for benefits. 

About Criminal History

Individuals who have been convicted of crimes are not necessarily banned from receiving Section 8 benefits.

However, there are certain offenses that will automatically disqualify applicants from receiving a housing choice voucher.

If you’ve been convicted of a crime, speak with a PHA agent to learn if you are eligible for benefits. 

Learn About Local Preferences 

Beyond qualifying for benefits, there are certain categories of applicants who are eligible to receive local preference through their PHAs.

If you have local preference and apply for benefits through a PHA that has a waitlist, you may be able to receive benefits more quickly.

These local preference criteria generally apply to individuals who are:

  • Involuntarily displaced. This means that these applicants lost their previous homes through no fault of their own. If individuals meet this requirement, they might be able to obtain local preference at their PHAs. 
  • Homeless. Applicants who currently have no home may be eligible to receive priority placement on their PHA’s Section 8 waiting list. 
  • Living in substandard housing.If you live in a house or apartment that is unsuitable and does not meet basic sanitary or safety requirements, you might be able to get a housing choice voucher more quickly. 
  • Spending more than half their household earnings on rent. The main goal of Section 8 is to make housing more affordable for families throughout the United States. As a result, households who currently devote more than half their income to rent may be able to receive priority Section 8 vouchers. 

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