Those who reside legally in the U.S. and don’t earn enough to pay a mortgage or rent may qualify for Housing Choice Vouchers, or what is also known as Section 8 housing. The application process can be complicated when asking for government assistance.
Getting the voucher, however, can be a big help when you are in a desperate situation financially. To be eligible, a family must earn less than 50 percent of the median income of families living in the city where they reside.
The local public housing authority is where the formal application process begins. The housing must meet safety requirements and all payments must be made on time to keep the voucher. Here are some tips for completing specific regulations and processes.
Understand How Housing Choice Vouchers Work
The vouchers are administered by the local public housing authority. There are several in the U.S. HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, supports Public Housing Authorities.
Your local PHA helps arrange Section 8 housing. A tenant-based voucher allows a tenant to move into approved housing with financial or housing assistance payments. Continued assistance is offered if a tenant wants to move into another unit. The voucher can be used wherever a tenant decides to live.
A project-based voucher is assistance for a tenant that must remain in the unit for which the voucher is issued. There are limits of specified units and time. The voucher cannot be used if the tenant chooses to move. A family with a project-based voucher may qualify for one that is tenant-based.
Multiple factors are taken into consideration when determining eligibility. They include:
- Family income
- Median income of families living in the area
- Current rent payments
- Family composition
You must be a U.S. citizen or have eligible immigration status. The family must make less than 50 percent of the median income of families living in the city or county it chooses to reside. Most Housing Choice Voucher recipients have earnings closer to 30 percent of a county’s or metro area’s median income. Other criteria are based on the composition and assets of a family.
Know the Type of Voucher Needed
HUD assists homeowners and renters. A tenant voucher is used to pay rent for the place an applicant lives. If the applicant owns a home, townhouse, or condominium and needs assistance with mortgage payments, a property voucher application must be completed. Housing Choice Vouchers can be used to buy and make mortgage payments for a modest home.
Here is a list of local Public Housing Authorities. Contact the local PHA to begin the process of applying. You may be able to complete the application online. If you are not fluent in English, you need to get assistance completing the required paperwork in person.
Call the local housing authority for office hours and ask to complete the application in person. Schedule a time when someone who can translate or help with completing the form can go with you.
Enrolling in Housing Choice Voucher Assistance
Prepare for a long wait.
Some people are put on a waiting list, even to fill out an application. Local PHAs sometimes have more applications than they can fund. There may be 10,000 spots with 100,000 applicants. Becoming enrolled can take three to six years or more in these areas.
PHAs develop preferences for moving applications higher or lower on the waiting list. Those who receive preferential treatment may be
- Currently homeless
- Living in substandard housing
- Pay over 50 percent of their earnings in rent
- Involuntarily displaced
Ask the local PHA office how allotted vouchers are prioritized. PHAs that have more applicants than they can assist may stop accepting applications temporarily. The closure will not be permanent, but it may behoove the applicant to look for Housing Choice Vouchers in another metropolitan area or county.
Responsibilities of Acceptance
If your application is approved and you are provided a housing voucher, you must ensure your intended or current living situation meets HUD’s health and safety requirements. Safety requirements include:
- Structural integrity
- No toxic building materials
- Sanitation and running water systems
- Appropriate thermal controls
- Local factors
If you rent, a signed one-year lease is required with the cooperating property owner. The owner is obligated to the local PHA and you to provide safe housing at a reasonable rent. All payments must be made on time. The unit must be maintained in good condition. All terms of the lease require compliance. Failing to make timely payments can revoke the Housing Choice Voucher.
Make a Responsible Rent Calculation
Under the Housing Choice Voucher program, the family pays 30 percent of their monthly adjusted gross income for utilities and housing. The voucher covers the remainder. The local PHA can help calculate the amount needed in the budget each month.
If the monthly income is $1500, you pay $450. There is likely going to be a cap on the most a voucher will cover that is based on the cost of living in the area.
A landlord has the legal right to refuse occupancy based on a determination of poor credit or failing to pass a background check. A landlord cannot refuse occupancy based solely on Housing Choice Voucher enrollment.
The landlord cannot charge a voucher holder more than a than a tenant without a voucher. Contact the local PHA if your suspect occupancy refusal based on enrollment in the Housing Choice Voucher program.
Geography Affect Housing Choices
The guidelines for the program vary from one location to another. Applications for a voucher in a jurisdiction other than where you currently live require the voucher holder to live in the new jurisdiction for at least a year before being free to move. Local housing authorities have information about using a voucher to buy a home that has below market rates. The voucher serves as credit toward the mortgage.
Penalty of Fraud
Housing Choice Voucher can be terminated as the result of fraud. Other penalties include fund restitution, probation, and, ultimately, prison. Fraud is any of these offenses:
- Knowingly omit or under-report assets of income from household income
- Transfer of income or assets to achieve eligibility
- Use falsified Social Security documents
- Get assistance above and beyond Section 8 without notification to the appropriate parties.
- Charge rent to a tenant living with you