How Does Section 8 Work?
The Housing Choice Voucher Program provides housing assistance, in the form of Section 8 vouchers, to low-income families. The Section 8 vouchers are used to help the family pay for housing. Local public housing agencies (PHA) administer vouchers based on household income and family size and recipients are free to choose any housing that meets program requirements.
To find your local PHA to apply, and to learn more about Section 8 voucher rules, visit the HUD website.
In general, Section 8 housing program follows the below structure:
- The individual/household applies for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
- The applicant is likely placed on a waiting list that may take more than 1-2 years.
- During this time, the applicant can also choose to accept project-based vouchers.
- Once the applicant is approved for a tenant-based voucher, they can begin to look for an apartment or home.
- The applicant can only use the voucher at properties that accept Section 8 vouchers and meet Section 8 requirements, including a physical inspection.
- Once the property is approved, PHAs will pay a portion of rent on their behalf.
- If the applicant is approved for project-based housing vouchers, a PHA can refer the applicant to a project-based assistance property owner with a vacant unit.
- If the applicant is screened and accepted by the property owner, the PHA will pay the portion of rent on their behalf.
Steps to Get Section 8 Housing or Section 8 Apartments
- Find your local Public Housing Agency (PHA). This is the first place to start. The Housing Choice Voucher program, although overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is administered by local PHAs. Click here to find your local Public Housing Agency. The website categorizes local PHAs by state, city and/or zip code and includes all available contact information.
- Determine if you are eligible. The PHA will help determine if you are eligible for Section 8 assistance. This is based on both the family size and the total annual gross income — in general, the income may not exceed 50 percent of the area’s median income. Section 8 is also limited to US citizens and certain categories of non-citizens with eligible immigration status.
- Obtain an application for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. Applications for the Housing Choice Voucher program are entirely free, and depending on the PHA, will available online, by mail or at the local housing authority’s office.
- Fill out and submit the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program application. Typically, the application will ask for the following from all household members: name, date of birth, Social Security Number and gross income of those applicable. Other requirements might include mailing addresses, email addresses, housing history, criminal history, phone numbers and more. Follow all instructions when submitting the application to ensure it will be processed correctly and efficiently.
- Find out Waiting List status. After the housing office processes the application, individuals and families will either be rejected or placed on a waiting list. Even if applicants are eligible, applications can be rejected because of high demand or because they weren’t chosen in a random lottery; the PHA must provide reasoning, however, and applicants can request an informal review.
- Confirm waiting list placement: Unfortunately, many waiting lists can be years long, given general lack of funding in relation to the increased demand for affordable housing. It can take up to a few months to process the application, but once it is processed, housing authorities will either confirm waiting list placement by mail or by logging into an online portal.
- Once you receive your voucher, find qualified housing. Under the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, tenants will typically pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent. The voucher will cover the rest. Individuals must find housing that accepts Section 8 vouchers and meets program requirements, including a physical inspection. Once housing is secured, PHAs will pay the rent directly to the landlord.
- What about project-based vouchers? The above references tenant-based vouchers, which can move with the tenant from various housing options and even across state lines. However, PHA’s can use up to 20 percent of their housing choice vouchers for project-based vouchers, which are attached to specific properties. Any applicant on a PHA waiting list can choose to receive project-based vouchers.
Section 8 Eligibility
There are four factors that the Public Housing Authority (PHA) considers to determine Section 8 program eligibility. These include:
- Your family size.
- Income limits.
- Your citizenship status. The applicant must meet the documentation requirements of citizenship or eligible immigration status. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for voucher assistance.
- Any previous evictions you've had. Anyone evicted from public housing or any Section 8 program for drug-related criminal activity are ineligible for assistance for at least 3 years from the date of the eviction.