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Your Guide to Section 8 and How to Apply for Housing Assistance

The Section 8 housing choice voucher program is an initiative that operates in cities and towns throughout the United States. If you’re struggling to afford your rent each month, you might be eligible for benefits through this program. 

Section 8 is operated by public housing agencies (PHAs) in specific districts. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes these benefits to PHAs. Then, the agencies award vouchers to applicants. 

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If you need help to be able to afford your rent, this program could provide assistance to you. However, before you can get benefits, you need to know how to apply for a voucher. 

The sections below explain how you can apply for Section 8 benefits through a PHA near you. While the process might seem overwhelming, you can submit your application in five easy steps. 

1. Find a public housing agency in the city you want to live in.

If you want to obtain a Section 8 housing choice voucher, you need to first find an agency to apply through. The PHA you use will be based on the location you want to use your Section 8 benefits in. 

PHAs are responsible for awarding benefits to residents in certain districts. Depending on where you’re looking to live, the PHA in that area could be responsible for distributing vouchers to: 

  • Applicants who want to live anywhere in the city. 
  • Households that would like to live in a specific part of the city. 
  • Families who want to live anywhere in a particular county. 

Once you know where you want to use your Section 8 benefits, you can start looking for housing agencies to help you. 

You can find your local PHA by visiting HUD’s website. This page will tell you how you can find your nearest PHA, as well as how to contact the facility. 

Make sure you know which PHA you need to apply through. Benefits are not transferable between districts. 

2. Learn if you qualify for benefits.

After you locate the PHA you need to apply for benefits through, it’s important that you check and make sure you’re qualified to receive a Section 8 voucher in that jurisdiction.  

In general, eligibility requirements are the same throughout the country. However, certain requirements, such as the amount of income you can earn and collect benefits, may vary by location. 

The general Section 8 eligibility requirements are as follows: 

  • You must qualify as a low-earning household before you can receive benefits. Section 8 vouchers can only be distributed to households that earn less than a certain amount of income on a regular basis. Usually, these earnings requirements are established in relation to the average income for the place you’re applying for benefits in. 
  • You are a U.S. citizen or have legal immigration status. You must legally reside in the United States before you can qualify for Section 8 benefits. This means you can apply for benefits as an immigrant, so long as you can document your status. 
  • You do not have any criminal history that would exclude you from receiving benefits. Individuals who were convicted of certain types of crimes cannot receive Section 8 benefits. Also, if you currently use drugs, you cannot receive a program voucher. 
  • You were previously removed from a Section 8 program. If you were kicked out of another Section 8 program, you generally cannot apply for new benefits through another PHA. 

3. Gather the supporting documents you need.

When you apply for Section 8, it’s important that you have documents ready to verify the fact that you qualify for a program voucher. Otherwise, you won’t be able to obtain assistance. 

Generally, you need to provide documents that verify whether you meet the criteria to enroll in your PHA’s Section 8 program. This means you’ll need to bring the following: 

  • IDs – You’ll need to provide a photo identification card for every member of your household who is 18 years of age or older. If possible, you should bring a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. 
  • Proof of income – You’ll need to provide your PHA with proof of your income before you can receive benefits. This means you’ll need to submit pay stubs to verify how much you earn. You’ll also need to submit any supplemental income you receive. This includes Social Security benefits, child support or food stamps. You should also be ready to provide a copy of your bank statement. 
  • Social Security cards – You need to provide a Social Security card for every person who lives in your household. 
  • Birth certificates – Be ready to provide birth certificates for everyone who lives with you. 

4. Submit your application for benefits to the PHA.

Once you have all the information you need to submit with your housing choice voucher application, you’re ready to file your materials. 

Your public housing agency is responsible for determining the methods you can use to apply for benefits. However, there are usually three main ways you can apply for a program voucher. This includes applying: 

  • In person. Your local PHA may permit you to apply for a housing voucher in person at the office. 
  • By mail. If you have a paper Section 8 application, you can apply for benefits by mailing it to your local PHA. You can usually obtain a copy of this document from your local program agency. 
  • Online. Some PHAs make it possible for you to apply for benefits online. If this option is available to you, it’s one of the quickest and most convenient ways you can submit your application. 

Each of these application methods has its own benefits. Make sure you choose the option that is best for you. 

5. Wait to hear if your application was approved.

After you submit your application, you need to wait for the PHA to determine if you qualify for benefits. The amount of time it takes for you to obtain a determination varies. 

However, you need to remember that just because you’re approved for Section 8 doesn’t mean you’ll be able to immediately receive a voucher. 

Most PHAs have a high demand for benefits. As a result, most public housing agencies are required to maintain waiting lists. Sometimes, these waiting lists are only a couple months long. Other times, they’re years long. 

Keep this in mind when you apply for benefits.

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