Your Guide to HUD Housing Assistance

With a low income, it’s very difficult to afford housing in most areas of the U.S. It is particularly difficult if you have a family and already struggle to pay for basic living expenses. 

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several forms of housing assistance to families in need. Such programs can help you rent an apartment, become a homeowner or otherwise work toward financial self-sufficiency. 

These programs are offered at a state level so that you can get one-on-one help with your housing goals. Depending on where you live, your state may also offer its own unique housing programs. You may consider applying for multiple forms of assistance to increase your chances of receiving help. Ultimately, participating in a housing assistance program can improve your quality of life. 

Your Housing Assistance Options

It is important to explore your housing options at a federal level and state level. At a federal level, your main housing assistance programs include:

If you want to rent a home, consider the HCV program, which helps low-income families by paying for a portion of their rent. If you qualify for assistance, you will be placed on a waitlist. Once you reach the top of the list, your PHA will re-check your eligibility to make sure you still qualify. 

With Section 8 assistance, you get to choose your own home. The home must undergo a health and safety inspection, and the landlord must participate in the HCV program. Nonetheless, selecting your own home may help you feel more independent and give you more control over your housing situation.

Note: Many Section 8 waitlists in different states are closed due to high demand. If your county’s waitlist is open and you are placed on the list, it may take several years before you can receive a voucher. 

If you want to own a home, consider the Section 8 homeownership program instead. As with the HCV rental program, your PHA will help you pay for a portion of your housing with vouchers. However, these vouchers will go toward homeownership expenses instead of rental expenses. Qualifying costs include:

  • Principal and interest on mortgage debt.
  • Homeowner’s insurance.
  • Property taxes.
  • Utilities.

Other expenses may be covered as well. Keep in mind that some PHAs do not offer homeownership assistance. Also, you must meet all the eligibility requirements of the HCV rental program in your county.

If you do not qualify for Section 8 assistance, you may consider public housing. While the HCV program may help you find a home in the private market, the public housing program deals with developments that are sponsored by the government. 

Though many forms of public housing consist of rental apartments in large developments, you may be able to live in a single-family house. Your options will depend on your area and what is available when you apply. 

If you are elderly, consider applying for senior housing in your county. Your state may offer assistance through the Section 202 program, which helps fund affordable housing for the elderly. If you have a disability, you may receive assistance through the Section 811 program instead. Both programs:

  • Help recipients live independently.
  • Offer supportive activities, such as cleaning, cooking and transportation.
  • Offer homes with adaptations, such as ramps for wheelchairs and support bars in bathrooms.

Finally, checking your state’s housing programs may help you find unique housing opportunities. For instance, California offers CalVet home loans to veterans in need of financial assistance. If you are a veteran, you have a chance of receiving a home loan, which you can use to: 

  • Purchase a new home.
  • Refinance your current home.
  • Remodel your current home if you have a disability.

This program offers other resources as well, such as tips on the homebuying process. If you are new to buying a home, you will be paired with an agent who can help you.

Eligibility for Housing Assistance

In order to be eligible for any form of housing assistance in the U.S., you must be a citizen or a legal non-citizen. Thus, you will typically need to produce:

  • A Social Security card or document issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
  • Proof of identity, such as a driver’s license, state ID or passport. 
  • Proof of legal presence if you are a non-citizen, such as a permanent resident card.

You must also be a resident of the state in which you are applying for assistance. Next, you may be required to pass a background check. If criminal activity shows up on your record, you risk having your application denied.

For nearly all housing assistance programs at the federal or state level, you’ll need to meet a set of income requirements as well. Each program will have its own rules. 

For instance, the HCV program requires all recipients to have an income that is at or below 50 percent of the average median income in their areas. 

To calculate your income, combine the earnings of every working family member. You must account for unearned income as well, such as:

  • Cash on hand.
  • Stocks and bonds.
  • Benefits from other assistance programs, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and more.
  • Property beyond the home in which you currently live.

Vehicles are usually not counted in this calculation, unless they are worth over a certain amount.

How to Find Housing Assistance Programs in Your Area

There are many different ways to find housing assistance in your state and county. First, try using the HUD resource locator. This is an interactive map which will help you find:

  • Affordable housing in your area.
  • Affordable housing for the elderly.
  • A nearby HUD office.
  • A local PHA.
  • Homeless shelters and other resources.

If you want one-on-one assistance, you may contact a HUD Counseling Agency (HCA). HCAs are located across the country and are designed to help you get the best housing assistance. 

If you contact an HCA, you will be paired with a housing counselor. He or she will address your housing issues and help you make responsible decisions.

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