Eligibility for the Section 8 / Housing Choice program.Updated January 7, 2017
The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program provides housing assistance, in the form of vouchers, to low-income families. The 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, visit the HUD website.
Steps to Receiving Assistance
- Eligibility is determined.
- Application is submitted.
- Family is placed on waiting list.
- Eligibility is confirmed when spot opens up.
- Voucher issued.
- Housing search.
- Request for Tenancy Approval and lease is submitted to PHA.
- Housing Quality Status (HQS) inspection and rent reasonableness determination is conducted.
- Voucher approved by PHA; tenant rent payment is calculated.
- Lease is signed.
- Housing Assistance Program contract is signed by the PHA and landlord.
- Move-in, payments begin.
- Annual reviews are conducted by PHA.
In general, there are four factors a PHA looks at to determine eligibility:
- Family size
- Income limits
- Citizenship status — the applicant must meet the documentation requirements of citizenship or eligible immigration status. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for voucher assistance.
- Previous evictions — 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.
Applying for Vouchers
To apply, the family provides information on family income, assets and family size/composition to their PHA. The agency uses this information to determine program eligibility and to calculate the housing assistance voucher amount.
If your family is eligible, you will be placed on a wait list, or, in very rare cases, helped immediately. When a spot opens up, the PHA will contact you and issue a housing voucher.
In general, voucher recipients must contribute 30% of their household income or at least $50 for rent and utilities, whichever is higher. The voucher covers the rest of those costs, up to a limit (“payment standard”) set by the PHA.
Families can choose any housing, including their current home and any other single-family homes, townhouses and apartments that meets the requirements of the program. Your PHA can advise you of all housing requirements before you begin your housing search.
A payment for the voucher amount will be made directly to your landlord each month by your PHA. You will then pay the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount covered by the voucher.
After choosing a home, the family signs a minimum one-year lease with the landlord. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit before moving in. When the lease is up, the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the home on a month-to-month basis.
After the family moves in, they are expected to follow the rules of the lease agreement, continue to meet all program requirements, pay rent on time, keep the housing unit in good condition, and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition. While receiving voucher assistance, no family members can engage in drug-related or violent criminal activity or commit fraud, bribery or any other or criminal act.
Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program
If you don’t make earn income to pay your rent or mortgage, you may qualify for the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program. The federal Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program is the largest form of federal housing assistance in the U.S. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Low-income families use vouchers to help pay for private housing, including single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. The home does not need to be located in subsidized housing projects — recipients can choose any home that meets program requirements. This may even include the family's present residence.
The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program helps lift more than one million people out of poverty. Housing vouchers reduce homelessness and alleviate hardship by giving families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods. Effects of the program can improve children’s long-term well-being and reduce costs in other public programs by providing educational, developmental and health benefits.
Vouchers are distributed through a local public housing agency (PHA) based on a family’s total annual income and family size. You must also be a U.S. citizens or have eligible immigration status to qualify.
Steps to Receiving Assistance
- Family contacts PHA to determine eligibility.
- Family applies.
- PHA places family on waiting list.
- When spot opens up, PHA confirms eligibility.
- PHA issues voucher.
- Family looks for housing.
- Family submits Request for Tenancy Approval and lease to PHA.
- PHA conducts Housing Quality Status (HQS) inspection and rent reasonableness determination.
- After home passes HQS inspection and rent reasonableness determination, PHA approves voucher value and calculates tenant payment.
- Landlord and family sign the lease.
- PHA and landlord sign Housing Assistance Program contract.
- Payments begin, family moves in.
- PHA conducts annual reviews, including HQS inspection and rent reasonableness determination.
Eligibility for the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program is based on multiple things, including your family's income, the median income where you live, how much you pay for rent, assets and family size and the composition.
Generally, these four factors affect eligibility:
- Family size (see below)
- Income limits (see below)
- Citizenship status — all family members are citizens or have eligible immigration status.
- Previous evictions — no family member has been evicted from public housing or a Section 8 program for drug-related criminal activity in at least 3 years.
PHAs must deny vouchers to families for the following reasons:
- Applicant does not meet the eligibility criteria (e.g., the family’s annual income exceeds the income limit for a family of that size).
- Any adult family member doesn’t submit required consent forms (e.g. authorization for release of information, declaration of citizenship and non-citizen status).
- Any family member has been convicted of making methamphetamine (“speed”) onsite at any housing project.
Certain PHAs may deny vouchers to families for the following reasons:
- Family has violated Housing Choice program obligations.
- Any family member has been evicted from public housing.
- The PHA has previously stopped assistance for any family member under the certificate or voucher program.
- Any member of the family commits violent or drug-related criminal activity.
- Any member of the family engages in fraud, bribery or another criminal act associated with any federal housing program.
A family includes:
- A family with or without children. A child in foster care and temporarily out of the home is considered a member of the family.
- An elderly family, which is defined as a family whose household head or single member is at least 62 years old; or two or more people who are at least 62; or at least one person who is at least 62 living with at least one live-in aide.
- A disabled family, which means a family whose household head or single member is a person with disabilities; or two or more people in the household have disabilities; or at least one person with disabilities living with at least one live-in aide.
- A displaced family, which is a family in which all members have removed from their home through governmental action, extensive damage to the home or who’s home has been destroyed by a disaster (must be recognized by federal disaster relief laws).
- A remaining member of a tenant family is a family member of a family currently receiving voucher assistance who remains in the home when other members have moved out.
- A single person who does not fit in a category above.
Your PHA can provide additional information specific to your area regarding the definition of family.
Federal rules are designed to make sure vouchers go to families who need them most. In general, a family's income cannot equal more than 50% of the area’s median income for where the family chooses to live. By law, a PHA must provide 75% of its vouchers to recipients from extremely low-income households (household income below 30% of the local median or poverty line, whichever is higher). HUD publishes median income levels, which vary by location. To find the income limits for your area visit the website below or contact your local PHA.
Families with Varied Citizenship Statuses
Families that include members with citizenship or eligible immigration status as well as members who don’t (or do not to state that they do) are eligible for prorated voucher assistance. Voucher amount is based on the number of family members with citizenship or eligible immigration status.
To apply for a voucher, contact your PHA.
You'll need these documents to apply for a voucher:
- Birth certificates for all family members
- Social security cards for all family members
- Driver's license
- State or alternate government issued photo ID.
- Passport (if you are not a U.S. citizens)
- Immigration papers (registered immigrants and aliens)
- Signed verification of immigrant status
Income information you need to provide:
- Social Security Verification Letter and Proof of Benefits
- Proof of income (pay stubs, W2, tax returns)
- Bank statements
- Documentation of public assistance benefits
- Information on any assets you own
When you apply, your PHA will gather information on total family income, assets and family size/composition. This information will be verified through other local agencies, your employer and your bank and used to determine eligibility and your voucher payment amount.
The need for housing assistance is greater than the number of vouchers available; long waiting times are common. Some PHAs only accept applications during designated time periods. When a PHA has more applicants than it can assist in the near future, it may close its waiting list. If your local PHA has a long or closed waiting list, you can apply for vouchers through multiple PHAs. Your PHA can provide a list of locations where your voucher can be used.
If your family is eligible, you will be placed on a waiting list, or, in some rare cases, you will be assisted immediately. When your name is reached on the waiting list, your PHA will contact you about receiving a housing voucher.
Local criteria may be set by your PHA for choosing families from its waiting list. Some examples include families who are:
- Living in substandard housing
- Paying rent totaling over 50% of family income
- Involuntarily displaced
Families who qualify under local preferences move ahead of other families on the list. PHA’s have the authority to determine selection preferences that address community priorities and housing needs.
Generally, a family must pay 30% of its income or, at least, $50 for rent and utilities, whichever is higher. The voucher covers the remaining costs, up to a cap, known as a “payment standard,” set by your PHA.
Your PHA will calculate the maximum voucher amount. The maximum amount is usually the 30% of a family's monthly adjusted income minus the payment standard OR 30% of monthly adjusted income minus the rent payment, whichever is less. In 2014, the maximum monthly voucher value was $2200.
The payment standard represents the cost of renting a moderately-priced home in the area. Families can select a home with a rent below or above the calculated payment standard. The family is responsible for paying the difference if rent is more than the payment standard. The recipient is obligated to pay 30%, but cannot pay over 40%, of its monthly-adjusted gross income toward rent and utilities.
Families can choose any housing, including single-family homes, townhomes and apartments, that meets program requirements. This may include the family's present residence. Requirements include meeting Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and reasonable unit size and rent. Housing is not limited to homes within subsidized housing projects.
The 13 key aspects covered under the HQS are:
- Overall cleanliness
- Sanitary bathrooms
- Working kitchen and area to dispose trash
- Space and security
- Temperature control
- Light and electricity
- Structure and materials
- Inside air quality
- Water availability
- Free of lead-based paint
- Area and neighborhood
- Smoke detectors
Your PHA will advise you of all housing requirements before you look for a home.
A family has at least 60 days to use a voucher after it’s received. A voucher can be used to help pay rent in a family’s current home or a new one. In both cases, the landlord must agree to accept Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers and your local PHA must confirm that the home meets HQS and that the rent is reasonable in comparison to similar homes in the area. Your PHA will tell you the eligible unit size based on family size and composition.
The PHA pays the voucher value to the landlord directly. The family is responsible for paying the difference between the total rent and the portion covered by the voucher to the landlord directly.
After a PHA approves a family’s home, the family and landlord sign a one-year lease. During this time, the PHA and landlord sign a housing assistance payments contract valid for the same time period. All parties involved, including the recipient (tenant), landlord, PHA and HUD have responsibilities under the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program. It’s important to understand these roles when applying for assistance and participating in the program.
Tenant's Obligations: When a family selects an approved housing unit, they sign a one-year lease with the landlord. The landlord may ask the tenant to pay a security deposit, which cannot exceed one-month’s rent. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new year-long lease or allow the family to continue renting on a month-to-month basis.
After the family moves in, they are expected to follow the lease agreement and program requirements, make rent payments on time, keep the home in good condition and notify the PHA of any changes in income or family composition.
While receiving voucher assistance, no family members can engage in drug-related criminal or violent criminal activity or commit fraud, bribery or any other corrupt or criminal act.
Landlord's Obligations: The landlord provides clean, safe and decent housing to a family at a reasonable rent. The housing unit must be up to housing quality standards (HQS) and reaming so while the landlord receives voucher payments. They are also expected to follow the lease agreement and and the housing assistance payments contract signed with the PHA.
Housing Authority's Obligations: The PHA administers the housing voucher assistance to the family. The PHA also enters into a housing assistance payments contract with the landlord, which makes them responsible for providing voucher payments to the landlord. he PHA has the right to stop assistance payments if the landlord does not meet the requirements of the lease or housing assistance payments contract. In addition, the PHA executes annual reviews of the family's income and composition and inspects each home at least annually to ensure that it continues to meet minimum HQS.
HUD's Role: HUD administers funds to the local PHAs so they can make housing assistance payments. HUD also pays the PHA a fee for the costs of administering the program. HUD invites PHAs to apply for funds for additional housing vouchers when funds become available. HUD then reviews the applications and awards funds on a competitive basis. HUD also oversees PHA administration of the program to ensure program rules are being followed.
Continuing Benefits After a Move
The Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher Program allows families to move without a lapse in their voucher assistance. However, the family must notify the PHA ahead of time. The family is also responsible for ending its existing lease within the terms of the lease agreement and finding housing that meets HQS wherever they move.
New voucher recipients can pick housing anywhere in the U.S. as long as the family lived within the service area of the PHA who issued the voucher when they first applied for vouchers. If a family did not live within the service area of the PHA they applied with at the time of application, they must lease a home in that service area for at least one-year while receiving voucher assistance. If you want to move, contact your local PHA to confirm procedures before moving. This will ensure you do not lose or have a lapse in benefits.
Some PHAs participate in the Homeownership Voucher Program, which allows families receiving Home Choice (Section 8) Vouchers to use their benefits towards mortgage payments on a new home. All rules of the Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher program apply and the benefit calculation is the same. You must be a recipient of Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers to participate. Additionally, families must meet these criteria to be eligible:
- First-time homeowner.
- No family member has owned or partially owned their home for a minimum of three years.
- No primary member of the family owns or partially owns residential property.
- Minimum income requirement:
- Qualified annual income of the homeowners must be greater than 2,000 times the hourly federal minimum wage
- For disabled families, the annual income of the homeowners must be greater than 12 times the monthly Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment for an individual living alone.
- Welfare assistance is not counted when determining family income, except for elderly or disabled families.
- Your PHA may establish a higher minimum income requirement for one or all family types.
- At least one homeowner is currently employed full-time and has been for at minimum of 1 year, except for elderly or disabled families.
- Family meets any additional eligibility requirements set by their local PHA.
- Family completes the PHA's pre-assistance homeownership and housing counseling program.
Customer Service Center
The Office of Public and Indian Housing’s Customer Service Center is a central source of information for all housing programs, including the (Section 8) Voucher Program.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. EST; Monday - Friday (closed for Federal Holidays)
Phone: Toll-free 1-800-955-2232
Have the following information ready when calling Customer Service:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Clear description of question or issue