Your Guide to Low Income Housing Programs & Assistance

There are a variety of government housing programs that make it easier to afford rent, a mortgage or other housing expenses. For many families, housing is extremely expensive, creating a burden that makes it difficult to afford other necessities. 

However, various government departments provide assistance to alleviate the cost of housing. 

When families have their housing expenses under control, it is easier to focus on other priorities such as work, school and other things that can lead to a better life. 

Many types of assistance are designed for low-income households and vulnerable populations, but families with many different backgrounds can qualify for government programs. Renters, homeowners and homebuyers may all benefit from housing assistance programs. 

What is housing assistance? 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) broadly defines “affordability” as spending less than 30 percent of one’s income on housing. 

However, millions of families pay significantly more than this, with an estimated 12 million households paying upwards of 50 percent of their income on rent or a mortgage. 

The point of government assistance is to make housing more affordable so that families can save more of their income for other necessities. 

Housing assistance can come in many forms. Depending on the program, assistance may include: 

  • Subsidies provided by the federal government to private landlords, who can then offer an apartment to renters at a lower rate. 
  • Subsidized apartment units that are available at affordable prices for low-income families. 
  • Vouchers that allow households to receive money towards a rental on the open market. 
  • Tax credits that allow developers to build affordable housing units that are rented to low-income families. 
  • Free counseling that helps families avoid losing their homes. 
  • Insured mortgages that make it easier for families to get approved for a loan. 

Who can qualify for housing assistance? 

Renters, homebuyers and homeowners can all benefit from government housing programs. In most cases, a family will need to meet income requirements and additional qualifications that can relate to various criteria.  

Because there are so many different types of housing assistance, the requirements can vary greatly. HUD’s income limits are used as a guideline for many different programs, but it is necessary to check the rules for each program separately. 

Affordable Rent Programs 

Renters who need help with their living expenses can benefit from subsidized housing programs and other types of rental assistance. Elderly or disabled individuals oftentimes qualify for additional programs, such as: 

HUD’s major rental assistance program is the housing choice voucher program, which is often referred to as Section 8. Under this program, beneficiaries can receive a voucher that allows them to choose a unit on the open market. With Section 8, families may also be able to keep their rental assistance if they move somewhere else in the future. 

There are also public housing options for low-income families. Public housing includes a variety of single-family homes, apartment units, townhomes and other types of rentals. These units are owned by public housing agencies (PHAs) and are rented at a more affordable rate based on a family’s income. 

If you are interested in enrolling in either of these programs, you must contact your local PHA. Caseworkers at these agencies can help you determine if you qualify for benefits and what types of assistance opportunities might be available to you. 

Programs for Homebuyers 

Various government agencies have programs that make it easier for renters to become homeowners. HUD, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies all provide assistance. 

One of the most important assistance opportunities HUD offers is Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgages. With an FHA-insured mortgage, families can increase their chances of being approved for a loan if they have poor credit or cannot afford a down payment. 

HUD homes are another way first-time homebuyers can save money with their housing costs. These are homes that were previously financed with an FHA loan but went into foreclosure. HUD homes are typically sold at a significantly lower cost compared to houses on the traditional real estate market. 

If you currently live in public housing or receive a housing choice voucher, there are also programs that may make homeownership a more achievable goal. PHAs that own public housing may choose to sell a unit to an eligible family. If you have a housing choice voucher, you might be able to use your voucher towards the purchase of a modest home. 

There are other homebuying programs in each state. The types of assistance available can vary depending on where you live, so make sure you understand the opportunities that are available in your area.  

Affordable Housing Resources for Homeowners 

Being a homeowner is expensive. There are a handful of programs that can help you manage your housing costs, afford repairs and handle your mortgage payments better. Some of these include: 

Furthermore, you should check with your local government and nonprofits in your area to see if they offer any benefits to homeowners. If you live in a rural area or in a community with a high need for your profession, you may be eligible for benefits to help you afford a house there. 

Emergency Programs 

Many of the programs described above are also available to families who are living in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), households may be eligible to qualify for temporary rental assistance, lodging expense reimbursement, home repair coverage and even home replacement in some cases. 

Note that the FEMA Individual Assistance program is only available to families who can verify that their homes have been damaged by a federally-declared natural disaster. Be sure you are aware of these requirements before you apply for benefits. Otherwise you won’t be able to obtain assistance through that particular program. 

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