Your Guide to Section 8 and Low Income Housing

If you are approved for the Section 8 housing choice voucher (HCV) program and reach the top of the waitlist in your county, you’re ready to search for a home. 

Finding a suitable home is your responsibility, so it is important that you keep the HCV program’s health and safety guidelines in mind. You must also make sure your new home falls below a certain rental amount, which is established in relation to the size of your family. 

Although you are allowed to search for a housing unit in the private market, there are certain restrictions. For instance, the landlord or property owner of the unit must participate in the HCV program and be willing to accept vouchers. 

These guidelines are determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and maintained by local public housing agencies (PHAs) in your state.

HUD Resources

To begin looking for a new home, you may start with a broad search by using the HUD resource locator and the HUD apartment search tool. 

The main purpose of the resource locator is to help connect you with a nearby HUD office, PHA or other housing assistance resources. However, it can also give you information on:

  • Affordable housing opportunities in your area.
  • The number of low-income housing units registered with HUD in the state.
  • Contact information for low-income establishments in your area.

In order to get the most out of this service, you may have to enable geolocation on your computer. The locator is also available on smartphones if you download the app. 

With the locator, you may not be able to see which low-income units are currently available for rent. The apartment search tool, on the other hand, may provide you with more detailed information on available homes. It will display the number of bedrooms per unit, the location of each unit and more.

Housing Listings Sponsored by PHAs

If you prefer to use a customizable search tool, browse the resources offered by your PHA. Many housing authorities sponsor their own listing services. For example, Nebraska offers its own listing website for all PHAs in the state to use. 

To find a low-income rental on a state-sponsored website, you may search through listings by entering your city, county or ZIP code. From there, you can look at listings based on:

  • The type of home, including apartments, townhomes, condos and single-family houses.
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Your minimum and maximum rent amounts.
  • Handicap accessibility.

Housing authorities that do not have their own rental websites may refer you to an approved third-party site. Such platforms offer similar search criteria so that you can find homes that meet your lifestyle needs. These websites also offer:

  • Contact information for housing authorities in your area.
  • Guidelines on avoiding fake listings.
  • Information on open waitlists in your state.

To stay up to date on available listings, you may sign up for email alerts on one or more of these websites. Email notifications will inform you when new listings have been posted in your area. You may also use alerts to stay current on affordable housing news and find out when waitlists are opening or closing.

Other Low-Income Listing Websites

To expand your search even more, try using non-sponsored listing websites. Some of these platforms will allow you to view only Section 8 rentals. These may be the most useful because you will not waste time weeding through listings available to the general public.

Keep in mind that this does not mean you cannot find low-income rentals on traditional listing websites. However, you may find it more difficult because many of these sites do not require landlords, agents and property owners to specify whether they accept vouchers. As a result, you may find it more helpful to use these platforms as a way of learning about the housing market in your area instead. 

Home Inspections

Once you have selected a home, you must submit a request for an inspection to your PHA. A caseworker from the PHA will set up a time with you to visit the unit. 

All Section 8 homes must meet certain health and safety standards. For instance, the utilities in a unit must be in working condition and not pose any safety hazards. The following types of utilities are required:

  • A refrigerator that is large enough to accommodate the family size
  • A stove or cooking range 
  • A bathroom separated by a door
  • A shower or bathtub with hot and cold running water
  • A functional plumbing system

Furthermore, the inspector will make sure that the home does not have mold, pest infestations or other serious issues. If the unit does have problems, the inspector may ask the landlord to fix them. If the issues cannot be solved, the prospective renter must search for a new home.

Practicing Safe Search Techniques

While most rental websites closely monitor their listings, you may come across a scam. To avoid identity theft or housing fraud, you must recognize the signs of a scam. For instance, a fake lister may:

  • Ask for a deposit before allowing you to see the home.
  • Not wish to meet you in person.
  • Request your bank information or Social Security Number (SSN).

If any of these situations occur, do not give out any of your information. You may report the listing to the website and to your PHA.

You can also check the legitimacy of a property owner by getting in touch with your county property appraiser or assessor office. An agent at the office will ask for the name of the owner and let you know whether he or she owns the unit.

Tips on Finding the Right Home

As you browse through different listings, it may be tempting to settle on the first available home you see. However, you must remember to find a home that meets your lifestyle needs. 

Since your lease must last for a minimum of one year, you should make sure to search for a home in which you will be comfortable. Consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I want a smoking or non-smoking unit?
  • Will I want to keep pets in the home?
  • How long will my commute be to work?

Be sure to also check the included utilities in the rental price. Most landlords will include certain utilities such as water, heating or garbage pickup. 

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