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Ultimate Low Income Housing Program Guide

The Section 8 housing choice voucher (HCV) program may dramatically improve the lives of low-income families who cannot afford decent places to live. 

Qualified applicants have the opportunity to select homes from the private market. If the home meets health and safety standards, an approved family may live there for a minimum of one year.

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The recipient’s public housing agency (PHA) will pay a portion of the rent with vouchers. The family must then pay the remainder of the rent.

If you are considering the Section 8 program, do not hesitate to apply.

Vouchers are in high demand, and many PHAs across the country close their waitlists when they cannot accommodate new applicants. 

Fortunately, applying is relatively easy. Most states accept submissions online, in person and by mail. Remember to check the submission guidelines for your area, as they may differ from county to county. 

How to Qualify for Section 8 

If you want to receive Section 8 vouchers, you must meet citizenship and residency requirements. This means you must be a U.S. citizen or non-citizen who legally resides in the United States.

Note: Only some categories of legal non-citizens may be eligible to receive vouchers.

You will also need to pass a background check. Your PHA and your landlord both have the authority to deny assistance based on criminal activity that shows up in your background check. 

Lastly and very importantly, your income must not exceed a certain limit. The larger your household size, the higher your limit. A PHA’s income limits depend on the area median income (AMI).

In general, you will qualify for assistance if your earnings do not exceed 50 percent of the AMI. 

Income limits are updated each year by your local PHA and are often posted online. If you cannot find the income limit that applies to you, contact your housing authority. 

Keep in mind that some PHAs may be unable to offer you a place on the waitlist even if you qualify. In many states, housing authorities can only accept new applicants with extremely low income.

This includes applicants with earnings below 30 percent of the AMI and applicants who are homeless.

How to Calculate Your Income

When you fill out a Section 8 application, you will be asked to report your monthly income.

To calculate this, combine the earnings of each working family member. Note that some states do not require you to report the earnings of family members who are 18 years of age or younger.

Unearned income must be disclosed as well. This includes:

  • Stocks and bonds.
  • Money in checking and savings accounts.
  • Benefits from Social Security, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Some unearned income, such as child support, may not be counted. Be sure to check with your local PHA on what types of earnings will be factored in.

Note: When you add together your monthly earnings, do not make deductions for taxes or other types of expenses. Your PHA will factor these in when reviewing your application.

Find out About Important Documents

In order to complete the Section 8 application, you will need to reference personal documents.

These will ensure that the information you provide is accurate. Additionally, your PHA will most likely make a request to see them.

Verification documents include:

  • Social Security cards for you and each of your family members.
  • Proof of identity, such as a driver’s license, passport, visa or permanent resident card.
  • Three of your most recent paychecks or receipts from unearned income.
  • Proof of housing expenses, such as a lease agreement and utility bills.
  • Proof of medical expenses or a doctor’s note if you have a disability.

If you forget to submit certain forms with your application, you will receive a notice from your PHA detailing which documents are missing. 

Learn About the Application Submission Process

The application process for the HCV program is relatively straightforward. If you are allowed to apply online, visit your housing authority’s website and follow the submission instructions. You may need to create an account or register by providing your:

  • Full name.
  • Street address.
  • Email address.

If you are not required to create an account, you may not be able to save your work as you go along. Thus, you must complete the application in one sitting.

If you want to apply in person, visit your local housing authority during its business hours.

If your PHA is about to reopen its waitlist for a limited amount of time, it may have very specific instructions on when and where you can submit an application.

If you are allowed to apply by mail, first obtain the correct form by requesting one online or by phone.

Your PHA will then send you a copy of the application When you have completed it, send it back along with your personal documents. 

What happens after you submit a Section 8 housing application?

Once you have submitted your form, you will receive a written notice from your PHA when a decision has been made.

If you were approved for the program, you will receive a spot on the waitlist. 

Once you reach the top of the waitlist, your housing authority will check your eligibility once more. A caseworker will review the following information in case your circumstances have changed:

  • Your family’s income
  • The size of your household
  • Your current living situation

If you were denied assistance, you may be able to reapply at a later date. Depending on the reason behind the denial, you may also be able to request an informal review. 

Informal reviews generally take place at the PHA with a caseworker.

During the review, the caseworker will explain the reasoning behind the decision. You will then have the chance to state your case and explain why you disagree. 

Find out About Housing Lists

Once you reach the top of the Section 8 waitlist, you may begin looking for a new home.

Many housing authorities offer their own online housing lists to help you in your search. 

You can also use an apartment search tool provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or a third-party website. To use a listing website, you may search for homes based on:

  • The type of unit, such as an apartment, townhome or condo.
  • The number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Minimum and maximum rental amounts.

Furthermore, the home you select must pass an inspection. A Section 8 home inspector will make sure that the unit:

  • Does not have mold or pest infestations.
  • Has working utilities.
  • Has a separate bathroom with hot and cold running water.

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